Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Revisiting Ross on the immateriality of thought


The late James Ross put forward a powerful argument for the immateriality of the intellect.  I developed and defended this argument in my essay “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought,” which originally appeared in American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly and is reprinted in Neo-Scholastic Essays.  Peter Dillard raises three objections to my essay in his ACPQ article “Ross Revisited: Reply to Feser.”  Let’s take a look.

Ross’s argument

Before doing so, let me summarize Ross’s argument.  The basic idea can be put in the form of the following syllogism:

1. All formal thinking is determinate.
2. No physical process is determinate. 
3. Thus, no formal thinking is a physical process.

Naturally, the significance and justification of the premises of this syllogism need spelling out.  I do that at length in my ACPQ essay, and readers who have not read it might want to do so before proceeding here.  For present purposes I will merely review some key points.

First, for those totally unfamiliar with this debate it might be necessary to point out that the determinacy and indeterminacy in question have nothing at all to do with causal determinism, quantum mechanics, free will, etc.  They have instead to do with the semantic determinacy and indeterminacy in view in some famous twentieth-century philosophical thought experiments like W. V. Quine’s “gavagai” example from Word and Object and Saul Kripke’s “quus” example from Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language

Something is “determinate” in the sense in question here if there is an objective fact of the matter about whether it has one rather than another of a possible range of meanings – that is to say, if it has a meaning or semantic content that is exact, precise, or unambiguous.  It is “indeterminate” if it does not, that is to say, if there is no objective fact of the matter about which of the alternative possible meanings or contents it possesses.

Now, Ross argues, first, that at least some of our thoughts and thought processes do have a content that is entirely determinate or exact.  The sort of thinking involved in mathematics and formal logic is the example on which he focuses.  There can, for instance, be an objective fact of the matter that I am adding, specifically, or reasoning according to the inference rule modus ponens

To deny that any of our thoughts has any determinate content, argues Ross, would be not only bizarre but incoherent.  For example, you have unambiguously to grasp what it is to add or to apply modus ponens in the very act of denying that we ever unambiguously grasp what it is to add or apply modus ponens.  You have unambiguously to apply formal rules of inference in the very act of giving an argument for the conclusion that we never unambiguously apply any formal rules of inference.

In defending the second premise, according to which no physical process is determinate in the relevant sense, Ross makes special use of Kripke’s “quus” example.  Kripke defines the “quus” function as follows:

x quus y = x + y, if x, y < 57;
               = 5 otherwise.

When carrying out addition, 2 and 2 will give you 4, 52 and 3 will give you 55, and 68 and 100 will give 168.  But when carrying out “quaddition,” though 2 and 2 will still give you 4, and 52 and 3 will still give you 55, 68 and 100 will give you 5. 

Now, suppose you had never added using any numbers higher than 57.  Then all the past behavior you exhibited when it seemed that you were adding would be equally consistent with the hypothesis that you were really quadding rather than adding.  Of course, most people have added using numbers larger than that.  But we could always define quaddition instead using some number higher than 57.  For example, we could use the number 3,998,702, and for any number we chose there would always be some higher number we could choose instead.  Hence we could always define “quaddition” in such a way that for anyone who has ever apparently been adding, the behavior he exhibited in doing so would be equally consistent with the hypothesis that he was really quadding.

Of course, we would all say that, even if our outward behavior is consistent with this weird “quadding” hypothesis, we know that we have always really been adding and not quadding.  But this is where Kripke introduces a famous skeptical scenario.  First of all, anything we say about the way we use symbols like “+” and words like “plus” can be said about any word.  Just as some person you are observing might in fact be quadding rather than adding when he speaks or writes sentences like “Two plus two equals four,” so too, when he says things like “Oh, I’m really adding and not ‘quadding,’ whatever that is!” what he might really mean, for all you know, is that he is quadding rather than adding.  It might be that every utterance he makes can be given an alternative interpretation in a way that is consistent with the hypothesis that he is using quaddition rather than addition.

But second, what is true of our interpretation of the words and behavior of other people is (so the argument goes) true also of our interpretation of our own words and behavior.  Maybe you have yourself always been quadding rather than adding.  And if you say “But sometimes I have just entertained the sentence ‘I am really adding and not quadding’ within the privacy of my own mind rather than speaking or writing it,” the trouble is that that sentence, which you only entertained mentally, might really have the meaning that you were actually quadding and not adding.  So, Kripke’s imagined skeptic says, you can never really know what anyone’s words mean, not even your own.  Every linguistic expression, whether spoken or written or even just existing in the form of mental imagery, is indeterminate in meaning or semantic content.

Nor, if mental imagery along with speaking, writing, and other bodily behavior, is all there is that could determine semantic content, is this merely an epistemological result but also a metaphysical result.  It’s not just that you couldn’t know what you or anyone else really means.  It’s that there would be no objective fact of the matter at all about what you or anyone else really means.

Now, Ross adapts Kripke’s example to his own purposes.  He argues that if all the facts there are to go on are the physical facts, then Kripke’s imagined skeptic would be right.  There would be no determinate meaning at all, no fact of the matter about the semantic content of what anyone ever says or thinks.  Material or physical processes are inherently indeterminate in precisely the way Kripke’s example describes.  But, again, formal thought processes do in fact have a determinate content.  Hence formal thought processes cannot be material or physical.  (As I argue at length in my essay, the way to see how this is possible given what Kripke says about mental imagery and the like is sharply to distinguish between intellect on the one hand and imagination and sensation on the other, i.e. between strictly conceptual thought and the mere having of sensations, mental pictures, auditory imagery, and so forth.)

A lot more could be said, and I say it in the essay.  So if there is some point in the argument you don’t understand or some objection you think hasn’t been considered, give the essay a read, because I think you’ll find I address it there.  But this summary should suffice to provide context for my discussion of Dillard’s objections.

Metaphysics or just epistemology?

According to Dillard’s first objection, Ross is not in fact entitled to a metaphysical conclusion, but only an epistemological one.  In particular, the most Ross can say is that you cannot know from the physical facts what you or anyone else means.  But it doesn’t follow that the physical facts don’t suffice to make it the case that our thoughts and utterances actually have some determinate meaning.  For all Ross has shown, maybe our thoughts are purely physical but nevertheless do have some determinate meaning, even if we can’t know what that meaning is.  Hence (Dillard concludes) Ross hasn’t really established that formal thinking is not physical.

Dillard defends this claim by appealing to what he takes to be a parallel example.  Consider the mitosis that a cell undergoes, and an imaginary Kripke-style parallel process which Dillard labels “schmitosis.”  Schmitosis is just like mitosis, except that:

“[S]chmitosis”… yields nuclei containing an exact copy of the parental nucleus’s chromosomes for the first 10n cell divisions but an entirely different set of chromosomes for any cell divisions > 10n. No matter how many mitotic divisions the cells undergo, their behavior will also conform to an incompatible, non-mitotic process. (p. 140)

What we’ve got here, Dillard suggests, is a scenario in which it is indeterminate from the lower-level physical facts whether a cell is undergoing mitosis or schmitosis.  But it doesn’t follow that there is no objective fact of the matter about whether a cell is really undergoing mitosis, and it doesn’t follow that, if there is a fact of the matter, something non-physical is happening here.  What we should say instead, in Dillard’s view, is that mitosis is irreducible to the lower-level physical facts, but is still itself physical. 

Now, so far I am happy to agree with what Dillard says, at least for the sake of argument.  Indeed, though he doesn’t put it this way, he is essentially making a very Aristotelian claim.  For it is part of the Aristotelian theory of substantial form that a true substance has properties and causal powers that are irreducible to those of its parts.  And that has nothing essentially to do with immateriality.  The causal powers and properties of a dog or a tree are irreducible to those of their parts, but a dog and a tree are still purely material substances.  The causal powers and properties of water are irreducible to those of a mere aggregate of distinct parcels of hydrogen and oxygen, but water is still a purely material substance.  And so forth.

So, if so far Dillard has made a point that an Aristotelian like Ross or me would agree with, how is it supposed to pose a problem for Ross’s argument?  The answer is that the irreducibility of mitosis to lower-level physical facts has, Dillard evidently thinks, only epistemological rather than metaphysical significance.  And this in his view supports the judgment that the indeterminacy of meaning too has only epistemological significance.  Just as mitosis is a purely material process even if irreducible to lower-level physical facts, so too might formal thinking be purely material even if its content is indeterminate from the physical facts.

But Dillard is making two mistakes here.  The first is in supposing, without argument, that irreducibility has only epistemological significance.  He seems to think that if a higher-level feature is physical despite being irreducible to lower-level physical features, then the gap between the levels cannot in any way be metaphysical and thus must be epistemological.  But the Aristotelian hylemorphist denies that.  There are, on the Aristotelian view, metaphysical gaps within the material world itself and not just between the material and the immaterial.  For example, there are the traditional Aristotelian distinctions between the inorganic and the organic and between merely vegetative and animal forms of life.  So, unless he provides some argument for the supposition he is making, Dillard is here begging the question against the Aristotelian.  (My fellow Thomists will take note that for ease of exposition I am here using the term “metaphysical” in the broad sense in which it is typically used by contemporary analytic philosophers, not the narrower sense in which it is traditionally used by Thomists.)

More importantly, the issue doesn’t really have anything to do with irreducibility per se in the first place.  Dillard is essentially conflating questions about indeterminacy and questions about irreducibility, and thereby misunderstanding Ross’s argument.  Ross isn’t arguing that thought is irreducible and therefore immaterial.  Again, as an Aristotelian he would not make such an inference.  Rather, he is arguing that thought has a determinate semantic content and is therefore immaterial.  So, the mitosis/schmitosis example is simply not relevantly parallel to Ross’s examples, because there is no semantic content involved in mitosis. 

In developing his objection against Ross, Dillard makes some further mistakes.  He attributes to me the thesis that “forms do not actually exist in the material world but only as idealized universals abstracted by the human intellect” (p. 141), and on the basis of this attribution also attributes to me an odd view about causal powers.  But I have never said any such thing, and that is not my view at all.  Take the substantial form of Socrates.  It exists in Socrates himself, and since it is the ground of his causal powers, that ground also exists in Socrates himself.  Something similar can be said about the substantial form of Aristotle.  Now consider the form humanness.  Unlike the substantial forms of Socrates and of Aristotle, this is a universal.  And it is qua universal that this form exists only as abstracted by the intellect from Socrates, Aristotle, and other particular human beings.  Dillard seems to be confusing (what I said about) the Aristotelian account of universals with an account of the ontological status of forms in general.

Dillard is also, I think, insufficiently attentive to the implications of the Aristotelian distinction between genuine substances and artifacts, but since this seems to be tangential to the main point of his first objection (and the relevant remarks are largely confined to a footnote), I won’t pursue the matter here.  Readers interested in that distinction, and in the notion of substantial form and the other key components of hylemorphism, are directed to chapter 3 of my book Scholastic Metaphysics

Incoherence?

Dillard’s second objection questions Ross’s claim that it is incoherent to deny that our thoughts ever have any determinate content.  Here Dillard makes two main points.  First, he notes that a Quinean naturalist would express the claims to which he is committed in terms of a formal language, and in summarizing how this would go Dillard speaks of what he calls the “L-sentences” of such a language.  Dillard then says:

Whether an L-sentence is logically valid or whether an L-sentence is a logical consequence of other L-sentences has nothing to do with whether there are determinate facts about human thinking, any more than whether ferns in the Smoky Mountains are undergoing photosynthesis has anything to do with determinate facts about Tasmanian devils. (p. 144)

Now, Dillard’s point here, as far as I can tell, is that whether an argument in such a formal language is valid or not is just an objective fact that has nothing to do with what anyone thinks about it.  Hence the determinacy or indeterminacy of human thought is irrelevant. 

But if this is what Dillard is saying, then it seems to me that he is simply missing Ross’s point.  The question isn’t whether there might still, as a matter of objective fact, be logical connections between propositions even if human thought was material (if we understand these objective facts in Platonic terms, say).  The question is whether human thought could ever get in contact with these facts.  And what Quinean and Kripkean indeterminacy arguments entail, Ross argues, is that human thought could not do so if it were material.  For while there might still in that case be a fact of the matter about whether modus ponens is objectively a valid form of inference, there would be no fact of the matter about whether anyone’s thoughts actually conform to modus ponens or to some other, invalid inference form instead.  And that’s the sort of result that generates the incoherence Ross is talking about.

Dillard’s second move here is to appeal to the “skeptical solutions” naturalist philosophers have proposed to deal with indeterminacy puzzles like Kripke’s and Quine’s.  He puts particular emphasis on the Quinean idea that we can take others to mean the same thing we do when our utterances don’t produce in them “bizarreness reactions” like blank stares, eye-rolling, puzzled looks, etc.  Writes Dillard:

The austere naturalist grants that we can be said to assert, mean, and understand things in the minimal sense that our utterances and inscriptions which either contain the relevant expressions or are made in response to others’ utterances and inscriptions containing them do not provoke bizarreness reactions. (p. 144)

As far as I can tell, what Dillard is saying here is that as long as your utterances don’t produce such “bizarreness reactions” in others, then, the materialist can argue, you can be said to be adding, applying modus ponens, etc., and the indeterminacy problem is thereby solved.  Hence the incoherence problem won’t arise. 

But there are several problems with this proposal.  First, we need to distinguish (a) the thesis that there is no objective fact of the matter about what anyone means, from (b) attempts to deal with the practical problems this thesis generates by way of appealing to the absence of “bizarreness reactions” or the like.  Now, what Dillard seems to be saying is that a materialist could hold that as long as we have (b), then we needn’t worry about the practical problems posed by (a).  But this completely misses Ross’s point.  Ross is not saying that (a) could in principle be true but that it would pose intractable practical problems for the materialist – in which case the materialist’s appeal to (b) would be to the point.  Rather, Ross is saying that (a) is incoherent and cannot in principle be true, so that we never even get to the stage of having to deal with indeterminacy problems by appealing to bizarreness reactions, etc. 

(Of course, Ross allows that there would be no fact of the matter about what anyone means if human thought were material.  But he does not grant that there might in principle be no fact of the matter about what anyone means full stop.  He thinks there is and must be a fact of the matter, which is why human thought has to be immaterial.) 

Another problem is that the very idea that the absence of “bizarreness reactions” suffices to solve the indeterminacy problem is simply a non-starter, for several reasons.  For one thing, the absence of bizarreness reactions in others is neither necessary nor sufficient for one’s reasoning to count as conforming to a valid logical form.  As all logic teachers know, if you present an argument like the following to beginning students:

Either 2 + 2 = 5 or the sky is blue.
It is not true that 2 + 2 = 5.
Therefore, the sky is blue.

that will certainly produce “bizarreness reactions” in them.  They will think it a very odd way to speak, and they may even go so far as to say that it is not a logical way to speak.  But of course, in fact it is a perfectly valid and even sound argument of the logical form disjunctive syllogism.  Arguments that are not sound but still valid also provoke bizarreness reactions in people.  If you say:

If the sky is green, then water is flammable.
The sky is green.
Therefore, water is flammable.

you will once again provoke  bizarreness reactions in beginning students, and it takes a little effort to explain why, for all its obvious faults, this is at least a valid argument in the sense in which the word “valid” is used in logic.

You can also say and do things that do not produce bizarreness reactions in others, yet do not amount to logical reasoning.  For example, if you give an argument like the following:

If it is raining, then the streets are wet.
The streets are wet.
Therefore, it is raining.

many will nod approvingly and think it in no way bizarre.  But in fact it is an argument of the invalid form affirming the consequent.  And it would remain invalid even if you somehow got all logicians to start agreeing with it.  Furthermore, we say and do all sorts of other things that do not produce bizarreness reactions in others – walking, yawning, saying “Have a nice day,” etc. – but which do not amount to valid forms of reasoning, precisely because they don’t involve reasoning of any sort at all.

Then there is the fact that what the Quinean calls “bizarreness reactions” are themselves just as indeterminate in their significance as any utterance is.  For example, it is no good to say: “The looks people give me when I say that two and two make four don’t seem to express puzzlement; therefore I must be adding and not quadding.”  For just as the Kripkean skeptic can always ask: “But what do you or anyone else really mean when you use words like ‘plus,’ ‘add,’ etc.?” so too can he ask: “But what do you or anyone else really mean when you smile, nod, stare blankly, grimace, etc.?”   The Quinean appeal to “bizarreness reactions” doesn’t solve the indeterminacy problem at all, but merely pushes it back a further stage.

Skepticism about other minds?

Dillard’s third objection is that if thought processes are immaterial, but all we ever observe of other people are their bodies and behavior, then we could never know the meaning of anyone else’s thoughts.  “Ross’s immaterialism appears to open up an unbridgeable gulf between thinking and behavior,” says Dillard (p. 145).

But there are several problems with this objection.  First, what Dillard is raising here is just a variation on the traditional “problem of other minds.”  And it is difficult to see why Dillard thinks this is a special problem for Ross.  It can be and often is presented as a problem whatever one’s view about the metaphysics of mind, whether dualist or materialist.  For on either view there is arguably at least an epistemological gap between bodily and physiological facts on the one hand and facts about the mind on the other. 

This would be especially true of the non-reductive form of naturalism that Dillard pits against Ross.  As we saw above, in his first objection against Ross, Dillard suggests that the meaning of our thoughts might still be physical even if it could not be inferred from physical facts about behavior, brain activity, etc.  He claimed, contra Ross, that this has only epistemological rather than metaphysical significance.  But in that case Dillard himself is affirming an epistemological gap between thinking and behavior that poses just the sort of problem he thinks Ross’s position lands Ross in.

So, again, there is nothing about Ross’s position that raises the problem of other minds in a unique way.

Second, it would be rather absurd for a materialist who accepts Quinean or Kripkean indeterminacy results to raise this sort of objection against Ross.  Ross could respond: “At least given my view there is a fact of the matter about what a person means, even if one could not know what that meaning is except in one’s own case.  But if materialism were true, we couldn’t say even that much.  There would be no fact of the matter at all, not just a fact of the matter that we couldn’t know about.”

Dillard also suggests that Ross’s position no less than anyone else’s faces “private language” problems of the sort Wittgenstein raised in Philosophical Investigations.  He says that the “sui generis acts of thinking” entailed by Ross’s argument (for an explanation of which, see my article) would be problematic as purported anchors of meaning even in the first-person case, in just the way Wittgenstein says that sensations and behavior are problematic even in the first-person case.  To be sure, Dillard seems to allow that Ross’s “sui generis acts of thinking” would suffice to determine the content of the thoughts I am having here and now.  But he thinks they would not suffice to tell me what the true content of my past thoughts was.  He writes:

But since my earlier behavior associated with the “+” sign does not determine whether I was actually adding as opposed to quadding or even thinking of nothing at all, I also have no idea whether yesterday I was adding, quadding, or thinking of nothing at all. (p. 146)

But there are two problems with Dillard’s argument here.  First, it is not at all clear why he thinks that Ross’s “sui generis acts of thinking” would suffice to determine meaning in the first-person case here and now, but nevertheless would not suffice to determine what I meant in the past.  For, contrary to what Dillard says in the sentence just quoted, I don’t have merely my memory of past behavior to go on.  I also have my memory of these past sui generis acts.  And if present sui generis acts suffice to determine the content of what I am thinking now, why don’t past sui generis acts suffice to determine the content of what I was thinking then?  (True, in theory I could be forgetting what past sui generis acts of thought I actually engaged in.  But that’s a different problem, merely a special case of the more general question of how I can know memory is reliable.  It has nothing to do with Ross’s account, specifically.)

The second problem with Dillard’s objection is that (depending on how one reads him) he may be overlooking the crucial difference between sensations, behavior, etc. on the one hand and Ross’s “sui generis acts of thinking” on the other.  As I explained in my original article, with sensations, behavior, etc., there is a gap in principle between the sensation or behavior itself on the one hand, and whatever semantic content it is associated with on the other.  But with the sui generis acts of thinking, there is no such gap.  The thought just is its content.  Now it is the gap that exists in the former case that is essential to the sorts of problems Wittgenstein raises.  But since the gap doesn’t exist in the case of sui generis thoughts, the problems in question don’t apply to them.

In any event, Dillard undermines this entire third criticism of his when, on the last page of his article (p. 147), he endorses Paul Ziff’s solution to the question of how one can know what another is thinking.  I will let the reader read and evaluate that solution for himself, because the details don’t matter for the point I want to make about it.  And that point is that if Ziff’s solution is correct, then it shows why Ross’s position no more faces a “problem of other minds” than does the sort of view Dillard would favor.  In which case it is not clear why Dillard even bothers to raise his third objection against Ross.  Again, the problem of other minds is simply not more of a problem for Ross than it is for anyone else.

Not that I think it really is a problem.  The so-called “problem of other minds” rests on the presupposition that “zombies” (in the philosophy of mind sense of that term) are in principle possible, and I do not think they are possible.  But that is a topic for another time (and one I addressed in another post).

Anyway, I thank Dillard for his article and apologize for not responding to it earlier.  I had originally planned to do so in the context of an ACPQ article, but given the various book projects and other commitments that have taken up so much of my time over the last couple of years, I kept putting that article on the back burner.  Since it now seems a little late in the day for an ACPQ response, I decided to respond in a blog post.

FURTHER READING:

Earlier posts on topics related to those discussed in this post include:







Longtime readers will also recall an exchange I had a few years back with physicist Robert Oerter on the subject of Ross’s argument.  The relevant posts are:





Finally, ideas and arguments related to the issues discussed in this post are addressed in my article “From Aristotle to John Searle and Back Again: Formal Causes, Teleology, and Computation in Nature,” which appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Nova et Vetera.

154 comments:

  1. Heh, I was recently writing a paper on this and was wondering if we ever might see a reply to Dillard. Thanks for the post, Ed.

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  2. readers who have not read it might want to do so before proceeding here.

    Some of them indeed might. Others will no doubt prefer to rehash endless misunderstandings of the argument which have been dealt with many times before. But that's what the Internet is for, n'est-ce pas?

    First, it is not at all clear why he thinks that Ross’s “sui generis acts of thinking” would suffice to determine meaning in the first-person case here and now, but nevertheless would not suffice to determine what I meant in the past.

    Is Dillard taking for granted that memory is purely material? In that case, all I could have is indeterminate expressions — whether in my diary or in my brain-cells — of my previous thoughts. That would mean my thought would be more error-prone than it otherwise might be, but is irrelevant to whether it's even possible in principle to engage in reasoning. As you say, this is in no way specific to Ross's position.

    [Dillard] endorses Paul Ziff’s solution to the question of how one can know what another is thinking. ["Ziff replies that my gnashing my teeth is not the same as my teeth and jaws moving in these ways, since these same kinds of movements can occur when I am not gnashing my teeth but when electrical stimuli applied to the appropriate muscles cause my teeth and jaws to move in the appropriate ways."]

    But "gnashing one's teeth" in this sense is an intentional thought (expressed dentally rather than verbally, but that doesn't matter), so it just is a case of knowing an other's mind. And Ziff's "solution" seems to be a common-sense approach that pragmatically skirts the issue rather than answering it. (So again not a problem for your argument, anyway.)

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  3. Hi Ed Feser.

    I am not sure how plausible is your account of Final Causality in context of medieval and early modern philosophy of nature. I've seen philosophers argue that it is not at all clear that immanent teleology was widely endorsed in the medieval period .

    what are your thoughts about this:

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/251497332_Boyles_Teleological_Mechanism_and_the_Myth_of_Immanent_Teleology

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  4. Mr. Green,

    "Is Dillard taking for granted that memory is purely material? In that case, all I could have is indeterminate expressions — whether in my diary or in my brain-cells — of my previous thoughts."

    That would be you taking for granted that the purely material must be indeterminate. You beg the question just like Ross does.

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  5. That would be you taking for granted that the purely material must be indeterminate. You beg the question just like Ross does.

    If the question is whether Dillard's objection has bite against Ross's argument, as it explicitly is, Dillard cannot simply help himself to the assumption that it's not, regardless of the status of the original argument.

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  6. Don Jindra's suggestion that Ross's argument begs the question has been discussed now for years. Let's not waste more time on it.

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  7. Brandon,

    "If the question is whether Dillard's objection has bite against Ross's argument, as it explicitly is, Dillard cannot simply help himself to the assumption that it's not, regardless of the status of the original argument."

    True, but I'm not Dillard. And his poor response doesn't make Ross more true.

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  8. My personal pons asinorum arises again:

    In developing his objection against Ross, Dillard makes some further mistakes. He attributes to me the thesis that “forms do not actually exist in the material world but only as idealized universals abstracted by the human intellect” (p. 141), and on the basis of this attribution also attributes to me an odd view about causal powers. But I have never said any such thing, and that is not my view at all. Take the substantial form of Socrates. It exists in Socrates himself, and since it is the ground of his causal powers, that ground also exists in Socrates himself. Something similar can be said about the substantial form of Aristotle. Now consider the form humanness. Unlike the substantial forms of Socrates and of Aristotle, this is a universal. And it is qua universal that this form exists only as abstracted by the intellect from Socrates, Aristotle, and other particular human beings. Dillard seems to be confusing (what I said about) the Aristotelian account of universals with an account of the ontological status of forms in general.

    I would very much like to see the implications of this worked out. It seems to say that Socrates and Aristotle have each their individual forms, distinct from one another; that is to say, that each is a species, the way Aquinas says angels are. And this has always seemed to me to undercut the case for hylomorphism vs Platonism. Aristotle does give the argument that Plato's account of the forms errs in treating universals as being themselves particulars, rather than being of an entirely different order. And it would seem to me to revive the third man.

    Apparently I am wrong here; as I keep running into this. But for the life of me I cannot see why.

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  9. Are you familiar with Laurence Bonjour's article "Analytic Philosophy and the Nature of Thought" (available on his website)? You don't seem to have mentioned it in your blogging.
    Bonjour discusses three famous arguments (Quine on translation, Putnam on realism and Dummett on truth-conditional theories of meaning) which lead to the conclusion that we cannot know what we mean. He identifies the shared premise that leads to the absurd result as the view that thought is purely symbolic, the meaning of which is entirely extrinsic to it--dependent on patterns of use, external causal connections, and the like.
    It is not the same as Ross's argument but both focus on what is required for meaning to be determinate. I wonder if you have any thoughts.

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  10. True, but I'm not Dillard. And his poor response doesn't make Ross more true.

    Neither of these is at all relevant to any point at hand; nobody particularly cares about you, and it's mere ignoratio elenchi to bring the latter into a discussion of whether, in fact, Dillard's response is poor.

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  11. Hi Ed,

    I'm not sure if I'm missing some subtlety in Dillard's first objection, but why can't we just say that, for all we know, mitosis might be schmitosis while we in fact do know that we're plussing and not quusing?

    The mitosis/ schmitosis distinction can be treated as a variant of the grue-bleen problem, but on my reading of Ross he's claiming we know when some thought we are forming is modus ponens even if we don't know whether something we're looking at is green or grue, mitosis or schmitosis. Ross's point is that formal thought escapes the problem of induction even if inductions from sense can't. "Escaping the problem of induction" might not be a bad account of what Ross means by "determinate".

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  12. Brandon,

    If Ross's intention was to preach to the choir, he's obviously succeeded. But I think Ross did care about convincing skeptical materialists like me. Over the years I've merely explained why this materialist is unmoved by his proof.

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  13. Don Jindra: That would be you taking for granted that the purely material must be indeterminate. You beg the question just like Ross does.

    "Taking for granted" is different from "begging the question" is really different from "providing a flipping argument". Disagreeing with Ross's argument would be one thing, but since after all these years you haven't managed to figure out that he's even providing one, you'll understand if I take your comments with a molecule of salt.

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  14. George LeSauvage: It seems to say that Socrates and Aristotle have each their individual forms, distinct from one another; that is to say, that each is a species, the way Aquinas says angels are.

    I wonder if this is a problem of how we try to put the matter (or rather, the form!) into words. Socrates and Aristotle have "their" individual forms, but of course not like angels do. Since, on the Aristotelian view, there are no free-floating forms, we can speak only a form "in" a substance or "in" a mind. Because Socrates and Aristotle are two different substances, we speak of their "two" forms: in at least some sense, this is surely a natural way to phrase the situation. But individuals are individuated by matter; as soon as we try to think of the form of humanity "by itself", we are abstracting it away from matter, and as such there is only one form.

    In other words, trying to ask how many forms of something there are in itself is the wrong question; there is no such thing as a form "by itself". There is the form of humanity, etc. in abstraction or as a concept; since humanity is the same humanity for everyone, we put that in words by saying "there is one form of human nature". And there is the form of this substance or that; since individual substances are separate from one another, we put that in words by saying "the form of humanity is numerically two in Socrates and Aristotle".

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  15. If Ross's intention was to preach to the choir, he's obviously succeeded. But I think Ross did care about convincing skeptical materialists like me. Over the years I've merely explained why this materialist is unmoved by his proof.

    Remarkably, this again has nothing of relevance to do with the point at hand, which is the character of Dillard's response, and in particular Mr Green's criticism; Ross's motives and intentions are quite obviously irrelevant to this, as is anything to do with you. I'm not sure why you keep trying to make the discussion about you rather than about the much more interesting issue to which you were responding: is Dillard in his response taking for granted that memory is purely material?

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  16. Hi Ed,

    Thanks for this post. But I have to say that I don't think your paper refutes materialism; it merely refutes (a) behaviorism and (b) functionalism (more specifically, the version which says that mental states are to be modeled on the functional states of a computer).

    Given the fact that we cannot deduce from someone's past and present behavior whether they are adding or quadding, all that follows is that the determinate semantic content of our thoughts cannot be grounded in our behavior. That disproves behaviorism, but not materialism.

    Even if you are right in saying that "the functional features of an artifact are imposed from outside and not intrinsic to it in the way the teleological features of a natural substance are intrinsic to it," and that "there is nothing in the physical properties of a machine that can tell us whether it is adding or quadding," it does not follow that there is nothing in the structure and/or functions of the human brain (which, unlike a computer, possesses intrinsic teleological features) that can tell us whether it is adding or quadding. All that has been shown is that the functionality of the human brain is not the same as that of a computer.

    Searle's argument that syntax (which characterizes our thoughts) cannot be identified with any physical property cannot be used to disprove materialism, either. At most, it establishes property dualism. For a materialist could argue that the syntax which forms the warp and woof of our thoughts might still have a physical cause, even if it is not a physical property.

    There are other powerful arguments against materialism, and I rather like the one Ross gives on the last page of his paper, relating to the propositional content of thought: when I think that it is going to rain tomorrow, there is nothing in my brain which unambiguously corresponds to this thought, as opposed to some other thought. But Ross's claim in the earlier part of his essay, that "no physical process or sequence of processes, or even a function among physical processes, can be definite enough" to have one and only one formal meaning, has not been established, in my view. Cheers.

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  17. (which, unlike a computer, possesses intrinsic teleological features)

    Intrinsic teleological features are incompatible with materialism, unless you're using a definition of materialism so broad that Aquinas is just another materialist.

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  18. Hi Anonymous,

    I can't for the life of me see why a materialist could not believe in intrinsic teleological features. The kind of materialism I have in mind here is something like Russell's neutral monism. Not that Russell was a fan of telelology, by any means, but his theory of mind could have accommodated it.

    If you believe in non-bodily substances or non-bodily actions, then you're a dualist, in my book (or an idealist, if you don't believe in the extra-mental reality of matter). Everyone else is a materialist of one stripe or another.

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  19. @ Vincent

    Given the fact that we cannot deduce from someone's past and present behavior whether they are adding or quadding, all that follows is that the determinate semantic content of our thoughts cannot be grounded in our behavior. That disproves behaviorism, but not materialism.

    But "we cannot deduce from someone's past and present behavior whether they are adding or quadding" is not the only premise in any argument that Feser has made which has "materialism is false" as its conclusion.

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  20. Hi Feser and Readers of this Blog.

    What I am interested in here is that.Given Embodied Cognition

    Aren't these types of arguments from abstract concepts and Aristotelian metaphysics hugely undermined. In their book Philosophy in the Flesh Lakoff and Johnson argue that abstract concepts are largely metaphorical it has a full chapters dedicated to Philosophers. Ch 18 is on Aristotle.they talk about essentialism and Causality and how its all metaphorical.

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  21. Hi Greg,


    But "we cannot deduce from someone's past and present behavior whether they are adding or quadding" is not the only premise in any argument that Feser has made which has "materialism is false" as its conclusion.


    If you'd like to restate Feser's complete argument in the form of a syllogism, then please do so.

    Hi Anonymous,

    Intrinsic teleological features are incompatible with materialism, unless you're using a definition of materialism so broad that Aquinas is just another materialist.

    If you're right, then a defense of the reality of intrinsic teleological features should be enough to refute materialism. But in any case, I see no reason why a neutral monist could not affirm the reality of intrinsic teleological features.



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  22. Brandon,

    I was responding to you. It was you, not Dillard, who claimed "nobody particularly cares about you." I merely point out what should be obvious to all: People construct these sorts of proofs because they really do want to proof a point to an unsympathetic audience. Proving a point to a friendly audience is not challenging.

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  23. And as was already pointed out, DJ, no matter how much you obsessively try to make it about you, the question at hand is Dillard's response to Ross, not you.

    The name for a person who would construct an argument with audience reaction in view rather than objective quality of argument is 'sophist'. But even ignoring this, your opinion about Ross is not relevant, as I've noted before, to the question of the quality of Dillard's response to Ross.

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  24. Red,

    The indeterminacy question that Ross raises, if cogent, would apply to any position in which we 'think with our bodies'. So I suspect one would need to add another line of argument -- perhaps along the lines of Dillard's incoherence objection, or something of the sort.

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  25. Hi Brandon.

    Thanks for reply,I think I'am getting what you mean.I have no issues with the argument as presented but what about A-T metaphysics in general. Considering that embodied realists reject the Aristotelian thesis that we directly grasp things essences .If a priori knowledge,causality etc is reduced to conceptual metaphors wouldn't it undermine A-t ?

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  26. Well, first, I don't think the claim that we directly grasp the essence of things is an Aristotelian thesis unless one simply means that it is possible to know what a thing is; in reality, Aristotelians think that we have to make use of phantasms (imaginative representations) in our reasoning, and abstract from them. Aristotelianism is an embodied cognition theory, in a broad sense of the term; it holds that we think with our bodies, it's just that it holds that this is not an exhaustive account of human cognition. The point of Ross, for instance, is not that the material is not involved in human thinking, but that it is not enough.

    On the Lakoff point, Lakoff also holds that all of mathematics is metaphorical, as well, but this doesn't really tell us much about what's required in order to think of something metaphorical, nor does it tell us about the status of the things we are thinking about metaphorically. Something can hold that our thinking about sets is metaphorical and yet hold that sets really exist, for instance, in much the same that thinking about (say) a rock in metaphorical terms does not mean there is no rock. And, on the other side, once we've reached the point of dealing with conceptual metaphors -- we're arguably very abstract already. GOOD IS UP and BAD IS DOWN (just to make up an example) as conceptual metaphors are not the same as physical up and down; if I use UP and DOWN as a way to think through issues of good and bad, we're already dealing with very high-level abstractions, not with simple physical directions. Up and Down themselves are functioning, in fact, rather like Aristotelian phantasms.

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  27. Vincent Torley,

    (….Part 1 of 5…)

    You’ve asserted a material-based property dualism and also intrinsic teleology in a materialistic monism. With respect to determinant content, intentionality, and casual content, precision matters.

    Physicist Sean Carroll comments, “…..we are collections of vibrating quantum fields held together in persistent patterns by feeding off of ambient free energy according to impersonal and uncaring laws of nature, and we are also human beings who make choices and care about what happens to ourselves and others…

    Causally speaking you have not presented us with your duo of [1] a coherent metaphysic which [2] embraces and accommodates the physical sciences, unless perhaps you mean to *add* some sort of X to “physics”. Speaking of causal content / causation…. – on your monism – did you mean to employ something other than reality’s irreducible nature vis-à-vis her four irreducible forces or fields (….strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetic, gravitational….)? Or are you adding to that some other “something” that is also material? Are you claiming that quantum indeterminism gets you from those four irreducibly impersonal and unintentional fields over into the irreducibly intentional and personal?

    Please give us some examples of your X and how your X works. Emergentism is a fool’s errand *given* the Non-Theism’s toolbox but there is that option as well if you’re into that. If “that” is where your unpacking takes us to, well, then please give some examples of how that works.

    Many people disagree with the physicist Sean Carroll. Including S. Carroll himself. Just because someone foists that contradictions are not contradictory doesn't make it so. It's easy to be immune (or claim immunity) when you're all over the illusory map. When it comes to Carroll’s causal paradigm, we find him describing http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/07/13/free-will-is-as-real-as-baseball/ free will to be as real as baseball, and in such moves he simultaneously seeks the fulfillment of three wishes.

    [1] To remain within the causally closed paradigm afforded by physics, the “real”, the fundamentally impersonal (terms which in fact “….refer to the fundamental furniture of the universe. At this level of discourse he is a realist…”), and [2] to retain the intellectual right to employ terms of causality with respect to personal causation (the useful but not real, a “nominalist discussion about concepts, not a realist discussion of what is true about nature….” [and hence not true of human nature], and [3] it’s a bit blurry, but the third wish seems to fall along the lines of retaining the intellectual right to refute both emergentism and reductionism, forcing him into places between his realism and his nominalism. It’s real, but not really, and, it’s useful, but not true of reality’s fundamental nature, which ipso facto includes humanity’s fundamental nature, causally and otherwise. And so on.

    Therefore: regarding this: “…..we are collections of vibrating quantum fields held together in persistent patterns by feeding off of ambient free energy according to impersonal and uncaring laws of nature, and we are also human beings who make choices and care about what happens to ourselves and others…”, well, of course many people disagree with S. Carroll. Including S. Carroll himself.

    Just because someone foists that contradictions are not contradictory doesn't make it so. It's easy to be immune (or claim immunity) when you're all over the illusory map.

    Continued….

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  28. Vincent Torley,

    (….Part 2 of 5…)

    Quote:

    Emergence of Complex Structures

    To explain the relationship between the elements of the Core Theory and the macroscopic world, Carroll employs a broad notion of emergence. This concept traditionally refers to the ways in which higher level properties (e.g., those of water) emerge from the combination of more elementary constituents (e.g., hydrogen and oxygen). He claims that as time passes and entropy increases,

    “…..the configuration of matter in the universe takes on different forms, enabling the emergence of different higher-level ways of talking. The appearance of something like “purpose” simply comes down to the question: “Is purpose a useful concept when developing an effective theory of this part of reality in this particular domain of applicability?””

    “Consciousness” and “understanding” are concepts “we invent in order to give ourselves more useful and efficient descriptions of the world.” These concepts are not illusions, but accepting their reality does not mean a rejection of the laws of physics. All such concepts “are part of a higher-level vocabulary we use to talk about the emergent behavior of the underlying physical system, [they are] not something separate from the physical system.” This general mode of explanation allows the poetic naturalist to argue that

    “…..we are collections of vibrating quantum fields held together in persistent patterns by feeding off of ambient free energy according to impersonal and uncaring laws of nature, and we are also human beings who make choices and care about what happens to ourselves and others.”

    For poetic naturalism, the reality of concepts like consciousness, causality, and organism is only linguistic; they perform functions in particular narratives. The discussion is thus a nominalist discussion about concepts, not a realist discussion of what is true about nature. Yet, when Carroll turns to fermions, bosons, and the quantum wave function, he does think that these terms refer to the fundamental furniture of the universe. At this level of discourse, he is a realist; whereas in other areas he is a nominalist.

    End quote.

    Continued….

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  29. Brandon,

    I would say it's you who tried to make it obsessively about me. But I'm glad you brought up the issue. It ties in with my assessment of Dillard v. Ross.

    Dillard doesn't seem to understand the core issue. If a calculator is quadding instead of adding, we would consider that a bug. It's a bug because we have no interest in quadding. It's not that the calculator executes an "indeterminate" function, it's that we have little use for the function it actually does execute. The point at which we find this bug is irrelevant. It's irrelevant that it may not be doing quadding either -- there could be a second bug we haven't found yet. The point is, we want to add. The calculator doesn't care what it does, whatever it does. It doesn't want. We want stuff. We recognize a problem and fix it. The calculator doesn't have an ability to recognize a problem because no alternative is preferable to any other. But to imply, as Ross definitely does, that a calculator is a random function generator -- well, that would strike most people as absurd.

    Similarly, mathematical functions don't care what they do. They are and artifact as much as any computer. We can describe the orbit of Mars with an equation, but there's nothing about that equation that makes it apply to Mars or anything else. It's we humans who do the applying. We have reasons. Elsewhere this is referred to as final cause.

    Dillard's response ignores his best line of reasoning from earlier. This reasoning undermines the A-T position. For if in the physical (non-human) world there is only indeterminacy, there is no final cause; in fact there is no cause. Our gracious host attempted a response to that, but the response failed to notice the crux of the problem. Indeterminacy in the physical (non-human) world totally removes our justification to find objective, determinate cause or "forms" at all. It questions the final result of all physical facts. We merely pick and choose the patterns we see. That Dillard forgets this line of reasoning shows his incompetence.

    Ultimately Ross's rhetoric about indeterminacy is jargon for final cause which is jargon for human desire. We can throw out all of the arguments about "pure functions," mitosis, L-sentences and etc. It's wheel-spinning. All Ross really means is that we humans may want to do what we do.

    So this is Ross's proof stripped of the jargon:

    1. All formal thinking is about me.
    2. No physical process is about me.
    3. Thus, no formal thinking is a physical process.

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  30. Vincent Torley,

    (….Part 3 of 5….)

    Regarding the emergence of causality and regarding “Downward Causation” (which some may refer to as Top Down Causation) Sean Carroll (rightly) rejects such a notion and with it the idea of emergentism in his essay at http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/08/01/downward-causation/

    On that point Carroll agrees with both the Christian and all available evidence with respect to the physical sciences. For example, David Hart and David Oderberg concur with Carroll:

    Quote: A true physicalism makes no allowance for emergent properties in nature that are not already implicit in their causes. Unless, then, one is positing the existence of proto-conscious material elements, particles of intentionality and awareness that are in some inconceivable way already rational and subjective, and that can add up to the unified perspective of a single conscious subject (which seems a quite fantastic notion), one is really just talking about some marvelously inexplicable transition from the undirected, mindless causality of mechanistic matter to the intentional unity of consciousness. Talk of emergence in purely physical terms, then, really does not seem conspicuously better than talk of magic. End quote. (…by D.B. Hart…)

    Quote: Metaphysically, moreover, the very concept of self-organization is suspect. More precisely, the idea that an entity can organize itself into *existence*, which is what is at issue, is deeply suspicious. For if an entity – any entity – is to organize itself into existence, it has to exist before it can do *any* organizing, let alone organizing its own existence; so it has to exist before it exists, which is absurd. This means that self-organizing systems are really systems that are organized into existence from *without*, as a convection cell is organized into existence by its environment, albeit with apparent spontaneity and unpredictability. Once in existence, there is no conceptual problem with the entity's continually organizing itself through self-regulating, homeostatic, or other mechanisms that involve, say, taking in energy from the environment, utilizing it and expelling waste products. But that it could organize its entry into the world in the *first* place looks like as good a case of metaphysical impossibility as one is likely to get. End quote. (…David Oderberg…)

    Continued….

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  31. Vincent Torely,

    (….Part 4 of 5…)

    The Non-Theist (…whether the Idealist, the Monist, the Panpsychist, the Buddhist, the Physicalist, or whatever….) must be careful to define the causal content in all of his verbs, to define that content in all do-ing / verb-ing / think-ing / reason-ing / love-ing / cause-ing / causation / see-ing / talk-ing / care-ing.

    If it is not [Physics-Full-Stop] that is fine, but if that is the case, then what and whence? Recall that we are discussing causality/causation (….and therefore teleology too….).

    Do neurons *do* anything? I don't see that they do, on Carroll's terms… given physics. The fermions which make up the neurons *are* the neurons, and *they* are subject only to nature's four fundamental forces. This is why Carroll seems to allude to the fact that the higher levels are illusory. We can see how, causally speaking, we have no distinct (ontological, non-illusory) first cause nor other causes, but we do have those four fundamental forces. Carroll seems to think that eventually they will define all the other layers, such that there won't actually be the proverbial baseball. Recall that we are discussing causality/causation (….and therefore teleology too….).

    Continued….

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  32. Vincent Torley,

    (….Part 5 of 5…)

    I say all this to say that your terms seem to be making some sweeping claims about what material can account for but I don't see that you've demonstrated any causes – nor appealed to any causes – other than the following:

    “Fundamental interactions, also known as fundamental forces, are the interactions in physical systems that do not appear to be reducible to more basic interactions. There are four conventionally accepted fundamental interactions — gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. Each one is understood as the dynamics of a field. The gravitational force is modelled as a continuous classical field. The other three are each modelled as discrete quantum fields, and exhibit a measurable unit or elementary particle. The two nuclear interactions produce strong forces at minuscule, subatomic distances. The strong nuclear interaction is responsible for the binding of atomic nuclei. The weak nuclear interaction also acts on the nucleus, mediating radioactive decay. Electromagnetism and gravity produce significant forces at macroscopic scales where the effects can be seen directly in everyday life. Electrical and magnetic fields tend to cancel each other out when large collections of objects are considered, so over the largest distances (on the scale of planets and galaxies), gravity tends to be the dominant force.”

    Therefore: “…..we are collections of vibrating quantum fields held together in persistent patterns by feeding off of ambient free energy according to impersonal and uncaring laws of nature, and we are also human beings who make choices and care about what happens to ourselves and others…

    End.

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  33. Vincent,

    If you're right, then a defense of the reality of intrinsic teleological features should be enough to refute materialism. But in any case, I see no reason why a neutral monist could not affirm the reality of intrinsic teleological features.

    And if the neutral monist accepts intrinsic teleology, then it seems neutral monism is really just (or will eventually be, after the usual arguments) Aristo-Thomism ultimately. And if it is, and someone insists "well then Aristo-Thomism is just naturalism!" then naturalism is compatible with classical theism.

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  34. @ Don Jindra

    But to imply, as Ross definitely does, that a calculator is a random function generator -- well, that would strike most people as absurd.

    You are hysterical.

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  35. I would say it's you who tried to make it obsessively about me.

    No, I'm pretty clearly obsessive about the arguments, and have obsessively stated that the arguments matter and you don't. But I'm glad you've finally stopped wasting everyone's time and started talking about the actual point at hand.

    If a calculator is quadding instead of adding, we would consider that a bug.

    If a calculator is quadding instead of adding, we would only consider it a bug if it the difference were relevant, and indeed, for the reason you note: whether or not something is a bug is a matter of our interests, and nothing else. That this is so can be seen in that no calculator can distinguish the +2 from some other function very similar to it for a sufficiently large number of iterations. I pick up my practically ancient TI-34 calculator, for instance, and start adding +2, I of course eventually exceed its display output ability. Since it is designed for basic scientific calculations, when you get to 9999999998, and add +2, it switches to scientific notation, 1^10. Continue with +2 beyond that, however, and it returns 1^10, since it is now rounding to the nearest power of 10. This is in fact a close cousin of quus itself. Thus the TI-34, in a strict mathematical sense, does not add -- it does something that we can treat as interchangeable with addition up to a certain point, at which point it is clear that it diverges. We can move to a more advanced calculator; but it too will hit some point at which it fails, and so forth. The calculator is not actually doing mathematics; it is undergoing processes that we can, if and to the extent it is our interest, describe mathematically. But note that this doesn't imply that the calculator is not actually undergoing processes; the issue arises from the fact that these processes necessarily underdetermine the possible descriptions which fit its behavior no matter how long it runs. At any point, its finite behavior will allow of infinite possible descriptions. (Which is easy to prove: for any length of operations n, and some additional number m, the behavior up to n will be consistent with a description that has that behavior up to n and at some point n+m ceases to have that behavior. For instance, stepping from even number to the next even number up to 100 is consistent with a description in which even-stepping occurs up to 100, or 101, or 102, or 103, etc., and afterwards steps by +0.5, or +1, or +3, etc., not to mention endlessly many more complicated possible patterns.) When we are making calculators, however, we aren't trying to make machines with such precision of process that they can distinguish all of these infinite descriptions, because we don't need calculators capable of such a thing -- which we couldn't make anyway -- but only calculators that get us a useful result up to some threshold we consider good enough. But note that this means that talk of bugs is irrelevant -- our interests are arbitrary, but the issue here is intrinsic to the situation. It's not a final cause issue but a formal cause issue, and thus Dillard's attempt to address the issue of formal signs seems to be more promising.

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  36. scbrownlhrm,

    Thank you for your comments. I'll be brief. There is nothing inconsistent in saying that ultimate reality is all of one kind (monism) and that this reality has two distinct kinds of properties: physical and mental (property dualism). Neutral monism is not the same as materialism, but insofar as it denies the existence of immaterial entities (as posited by both substance dualism and classical theism), then it might be loosely described as "materialist."

    May I ask what you mean by materialism?

    You quote Hart as saying: "A true physicalism makes no allowance for emergent properties in nature that are not already implicit in their causes." But that begs the question in favor of reductionism. Why do high-level properties have to be explicable in terms of lower-level ones?

    You write that neurons are subject only to nature's four fundamental forces. Once again, that begs the question.

    I have explained in detail how libertarian freedom is compatible with top-down materialism (or rather, monism) and with everything we know about physics, in this recent post of mine:

    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/coynes-latest-defense-of-determinism-why-it-fails/

    Cheers.

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  37. Anonymous,

    I suggest that the presence of intrinsic finality in a living body can be ascertained empirically by its possession of the following biological properties:

    a nested hierarchy of organisation (in which macromolecules are nested into organelles, organelles into cells [the building blocks of all living systems except viruses], cells are nested into tissues, tissues into organs, and organs into an organism); and

    embedded functionality (living things are built from the bottom up, by intrinsically adapted parts whose entire repertoire of functionality is "dedicated" to supporting the functionality of the whole unit which they comprise).

    A nested hierarchy is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for intrinsic finality, because it is impossible to ascribe ends to an organism unless its parts work together for the benefit of the whole. To do this, the parts need to be hierarchically ordered. Finally, the hierarchy needs to be nested, in order for the parts to be intrinsically ordered towards the well-being of the whole. In a non-nested hierarchy, each part would be directed by some other part above and outside it; thus the part-whole finality would be merely extrinsic.

    Dr James Tour, the Chao professor of chemistry and computer science at Rice University, explains embedded functionality as follows:

    "[Let's say that] you see a tree [and] you want to make a table, [so] you chop down the tree [and] you make a table - that's [building] top down. But, the tree and I and everything else in nature are built from the bottom up. Molecules have certain embedded interactions between them and embedded functionality. Those come together to form higher-order structures called cells and those form higher-order structures and here we are."

    This "dedicated" functionality, the product of four billion years of evolution, can be seen at every level of organisation of a living thing, from the bottom up. Living things are built from the bottom up, by "dedicated", intrinsically adapted parts; today's human-built computers are designed from the top down, out of parts which have to be modified in some way, to suit the designers' ends.

    Entities with both of these features are guaranteed to possess intrinsic ends, because the parts work in a way that subserves the good-of-the-whole in a way that is built-in, and not merely accidental.

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  38. Vincent,

    [1] Neurons are fermions and fermions *are* reality's four fundamental forces. That isn't begging the question -- it's science. If you have physical evidence to the contrary as to causal forces in play please inform us.

    [2] Materialism is reality's four irreducible forces.

    [3] Make it simple for us.

    Causation: you've got four irreducible forces reverberating. Physics -- full stop.

    What other causation do you claim?

    Or do you just pile up those same four until they become free of their own irreducible nature?

    Or is quantum indeterminism intentionality?

    ?

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  39. “…But what is the ontological status of those quantum fields that quantum field theory describes? Does reality consist of a four-dimensional spacetime at every point of which there is a collection of operators on an infinite-dimensional Hilbert space?
    When I was a graduate student learning quantum field theory, I had a friend who was enchanted by the revelation that quantum fields were the real stuff that makes up the world. He reified quantum fields. But I hope you will agree that you are not a continuous field of operators on an infinite-dimensional Hilbert space. Nor, for that matter, is the page you are reading or the chair you are sitting in. Quantum fields are useful mathematical tools. They enable us to calculate things...”
    N.David Mermin

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  40. scbrownlhrm,

    I studied physics for two years at university as part of my science degree, so I know about the four fundamental forces. Where you're going wrong is in assuming that you need any force at all for top-down causation to work. You don't nee a fifth force, because top-down causation doesn't involve any pushing or pulling. I described how in the link I attached earlier, but for the benefit of readers, I'll attach the relevant paragraphs:

    "Consider the following two rows of digits:

    1 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 1
    0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 1

    "The above two rows of digits were created by a random number generator. The digits in some of these columns add up to 0; some add up to 1; and some add up to 2.

    "Now suppose that I impose the non-random macro requirement: keep the columns whose sum equals 1, and discard the rest. I now have:

    1 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
    0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0

    "Each row is still random (at the micro level), but I have now imposed a non-random macro-level constraint on the system as a whole (at the macro level). That, I would suggest, what happens when I make a choice. Choices are holistic events in the brain, which constrain not only the spatial pattern but also the temporal pattern of neuronal firings in the brain, leaving them random at the micro-level, but imposing a distinctive pattern at the macro-level, which varies with the choice being made. A choice, I would suggest, is not typically made at a point in time; rather, it usually occurs over a segment of time – for instance, the length of time taken to perform a deliberate bodily movement (which may be seconds, minutes or even hours in some cases).

    "Finally, it may be asked how the brain could possess the ability to 'discard' (or veto) an ensemble of micro-level states in the brain which does not correspond to the desired macro-level pattern – just as I did when I kept the columns of digits whose sum was 1, and eliminated the rest. The scientific answer is that a combination of feedback and feed-forward processes is known to regulate our voluntary movements, and that the brain continually makes minor adjustments to the motor impulses associated with these movements, even as it executes them. Exactly how it aggregates signals in different regions and rules out the ones it doesn’t want is a question I'll leave to scientists who study the brain. Exactly how it aggregates signals in different regions and rules out the ones it doesn't want is a question I'll leave to scientists who study the brain. All that concerns us here is that the aggregation of signals is known to occur in the brain, in connection with motor tasks, so the question of mechanism is a purely academic one."

    Hope that helps.

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  41. N. David Mermin is correct, causally speaking. If he means, that is, to affirm determined (...as defined in the context of Feser's essay...) and intentionality, etc.

    However, [Physics Full Stop] can't get him (...us...) there. Final causes are peculiar. To push it further, A-T meta affirms, according to most, the perceiving-self which outlives the body. That last part is coherent with final causes etc., but it isn't coherent with any materialism presented thus far. Nor are final causes. Not intentionality. Nor is the golden thread which the essay under review discusses.

    Physicist Sean Carroll is honest enough to allow a concession of his equivocation as he draws that line between his realism and his nominalism, as described earlier.

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  42. Vincent,

    Void of final causes (...and etc...) all vectors are eternally open ended.

    It seems the term "goal" therein becomes an ontic absurdity.

    One would have to show some metaphysical accounting it seems to keep such a term (...goal...) viable in such a paradigm.



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  43. Would it be true to say that the more concrete a thing is in reality, the more abstract it is in the mind? e.g. being itself is the most concrete of things, but in the mind the most abstract.

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  44. scbrownlhrm,

    Neurons are fermions and fermions *are* reality's four fundamental forces.

    Neurons are composed of fermions. Force-carrying particles (e.g. photons, gluons, W and Z bosons, Higgs bosons and gravitons) are bosons, not fermions. To say that fermions are forces is simply nonsensical.

    Materialism is reality's four irreducible forces.

    Uh, no. Matter (not materialism) is subject to the four irreducible forces. Materialism goes back 2,400 years, to a time when nobody knew about these forces.

    You seem to be assuming that anything which is subject to the four forces is determined by those forces. Not so. To quote once again from my link:

    "The claim that physics rules out free will is often heard. I find it curious, however, that proponents of determinism seldom tell us exactly which laws of physics imply the truth of determinism. The law of the conservation of mass-energy certainly doesn’t; and neither does the law of the conservation of momentum. Newtonian mechanics is popularly believed to imply determinism, but this belief was exploded over two decades ago by John Earman (A Primer on Determinism, 1986, Dordrecht: Reidel, chapter III). [See also the case of the dome.] Sometimes the Principle of Least Action is said to imply determinism. But since the principle does not apply to a system which is non-holonomic (i.e. a system whose geometrical constraints involve not only the coordinates but also the velocities), and usually doesn’t apply if the system is dissipative (i.e. if it includes frictional forces), then I fail to see how it could be realistically applied to the human brain – which we have absolutely no reason to regard as holonomic, and which is subject to frictional forces (both wet and dry). So much for .... theatrical appeals to 'the first principles of physics.'"

    You write:

    Causation: you've got four irreducible forces reverberating. Physics -- full stop.

    That's assuming that each and every mode of (efficient) causation involves the exertion of a force - which is precisely what I deny. Four forces - yes. Four modes of efficient causation, no. I can't be clearer than that.

    Or is quantum indeterminism intentionality?

    Quantum indeterminism does not imply libertarian freedom, as I explained in my article. It is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. It merely provides the substrate for top-down causation to act on, as I explained in my example of ones and zeroes.

    Hope that helps. Back later.

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  45. Dr Feser.

    will you respond to Robert Koons and Logan Paul Gage on their paper about Aquinas and intelligent design . they reject your view about errors and limits of ID in fact they claim that if Darwinism is true thomism is false, Thomism is a kind of metaphysical id theory, and that a thomist can't believe in evolution by natural selection...

    WTH DOODS>>>

    cheers..

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  46. Brandon,

    Your TI calculator is limited to 10 digits. But it functionally adds perfectly up to that point. There are one bit adders. The fact that they are limited to one bit doesn't keep them from being adders. Anything that performs a function will be limited in its ability to perform that function, and that includes you. If you take on the task of adding +2 to see your limit of endurance, I guarantee there will be one. Optimistically speaking, you have 120 years to complete the task. On your dying breath you'll be in the middle of some big number and someone other than me will be left on the edge of his seat waiting for the next digit. Not even a god could reach that infinite end. So you're expecting a calculator to do more than you could do and more than a god could do. It's an unreasonable standard.

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  47. scbrownlhrm,

    The immediate point of Mermin's essay was to emphasize to his fellow physicists the wisdom of Bohr's statement that “In our description of nature the purpose is not to disclose the real essence of the phenomena but only to track down, as far as possible, relations between the manifold aspects of our experience.”

    So what about the really, real? As you say, philosophy can't get you there. Only a notion of true, divine infinite transcendence does the job (Przywara-Analogy of Being).

    I like this from DB Hart:

    "…No theologian evinces a keener sense of creation as pure surface than Gregory of Nyssa: creation for him is only as the answer of light to light: apart from this, there is no world to speak of at all. This is true even of “material” nature: Gregory, like Basil before him, in various places denies that the world even possesses any material substrate apart from the intelligible acts that constitute its perceptible qualities; the world of bodies is a confluence of “thoughts”, “bare concepts”, “words”, noetic “potentialities”, proceeding from the divine nature; its esse, one might almost say, is percepi; the phenomenal realm is not, says Gregory, formed from any underlying matter, for “the divine will is the matter and substance of created things…"

    David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, pp. 258-259

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  48. Ross: "There is no doubt, then, as to what the machine is doing. It adds, calculates, recalls, etc., by simulation. What it does gets the name of what we do, because it reliably gets the results we do (perhaps even more reliably than we do) when we add by a distinct process. The machine adds the way puppets walk."

    Neither Dillard nor anyone else who wants to address the issues in Ross can ignore that sentence.

    Years ago I gave the example of a washing machine vs. Aunt Hilda. Hilda would rather not wash clothes at the river, so she opts for the machine. I'm supposed to believe that, like a calculator, the washing machine merely simulates its function. The objection was made that a washing machine was "derivative".

    If the function of a washing machine is derived from, or due to the desires of humans, human's got the idea by observing nature. All it took was our ancestors being caught in a rainstorm. Dirt washed off. Nature regularly performs functions without any intention to do so. Honey bees pollinate as an unintended consequence of gathering food. We humans notice these processes and we simulate, emulate, and mimick.

    Yet what of Ross's "pure functions?"

    Math is descriptive. It can describe planetary motions, business P&L, voting patterns, practically anything we want. Mathematical functions model the physical. The real function, the one in nature, messy as it may seem, is fundamentally physical. Ross's "pure functions" become meaningful only when they are an idealization of a physical process or fact. If the physical process doesn't follow the model, do we blame the physical for being impertinent? Ross blaming nature for being indeterminate is like pollsters blaming voters for not following polls. At the risk of stirring more controversy, this question is raised by the dubious performance of climate models. Where does truth lie, in the carefully crafted simulations or in the messy real world? If a calculator simulates addition, it's we humans who first simulate the real world by addition or otherwise, using computer or not. Neither the simulation language nor its user is more determinate than the thing being simulated. The user is merely shocked physical processes prove him wrong so often.

    "Pure" mathematical functions, if they have any real meaning, are always simulations of the physical. From a more humble POV, it's anthropocentric ingratitude to claim that the physical process -- the thing being modeled -- doesn't behave like our hopeful simulations or theories and therefore it must be something less than the modeller.

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  49. Hello Red,

    Yes, that's one of several things I've been meaning to get to. I will do so in the context of the philosophy of nature book that I am currently working on.

    BTW, just to be clear, as I have said many, many times, my main objections to ID have nothing to do one way or the other with evolution in general or Darwinism in particular, but rather with (a) the mechanistic conception of nature which ID writers tend to work with at least for the sake of argument, and (b) ID's tendency toward a theistic personalist conception of God. Evolution in general and Darwinism in particular could be as false or incompatible with Thomism as you like and it wouldn't affect these points in the least. They're just separate questions.

    Not that I am going to rehash any of that here -- I am not, and no threadjacks please.

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  50. @ Don Jindra

    I'm supposed to believe that, like a calculator, the washing machine merely simulates its function.

    No, you're not supposed to believe that. Washing is not a pure function at all.

    In Ross, "pure function" is a term of art. You've wanted to show that Ross's argument has some deep inconsistency with Aristotelianism, and you've long tried to draw that out by taking there to be a strict correspondence between Ross's pure functions and functions-in-the-sense-of-the-ends-of-things. But whatever correspondence there is is not strict. Adding is a pure function which I may perform, but that doesn't mean that my function (Aristotelian sense) is adding.

    Ross thinks no physical fact about the calculator settles the question of whether it is adding. He thinks it adds by simulation because we use it to add. Feser points out an Aristotelian way of understanding this claim: the calculator is an artifact, and its end/point/function-in-the-Aristotelian-sense depends on human intentions. That is an explanation, though, of why it should be said that we, properly, are what add, rather than the calculator. It is not a thesis about functions-in-the-Aristotelian-sense, namely that they are all pure functions. And thus there is no reason to think that artifacts, speaking generally, only simulate their functions-in-the-Aristotelian-sense.

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  51. Vincent,

    Yes you are claiming that there are interactions (and forces in play) other than strong and weak nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravitational.

    What is your evidence? It's okay to resist reductionism and to appeal to reality's irreducible nature somehow inventing reality's new/other irreducible nature.But I don't see that you've done that. You've claimed it.

    But what is this new/other irreducible nature which reality's old/former irreducible nature invented (...on evidence...).


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  52. "So you're expecting a calculator to do more than you could do and more than a god could do. It's an unreasonable standard."

    I think expecting you to understand anything is more unreasonable.

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  53. "Hi Ed Feser.

    I am not sure how plausible is your account of Final Causality in context of medieval and early modern philosophy of nature. I've seen philosophers argue that it is not at all clear that immanent teleology was widely endorsed in the medieval period .

    what are your thoughts about this:

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/251497332_Boyles_Teleological_Mechanism_and_the_Myth_of_Immanent_Teleology"

    This definitely looks like something I would like to see Ed respond to. It seems sort of contrary to the things Ed sometimes says about the history of philosophy. I mean, obviously, he could just say that it doesn't matter how mainstream immanent teleology was in the Middle Ages; it was Aquinas's position, he has provided independent arguments for it, it's the correct position, and that's the most important thing, who cares how mainstream it was before the modern period. But it seems like he rather wants to argue that the overthrow of immanent teleology was maybe the key revolution of modern philosophy...

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  54. Vincent,

    One more thing: if there is now reality's new/other irreducible nature (intentionality... determined meaning etc...) which reality's old/other irreducible nature (..or substratum..) invented, [1] did reality's old/other irreducible nature (...substratum...) invent the new/other irreducible nature intentionally or unintentionally and [2] does reality now have two different irreducible natures (...substratums...)?

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  55. Great post!

    Professor Feser (or anyone else who'd be willing to answer), though I've enjoyed your occasional posts in which you list a number of links for your readers to follow, I was wondering if you'd be willing to make a similar list of specifically academic essays and books in philosophy--a "to read" list, and by "read" I really mean "study".

    I'm very interested in philosophy and am planning on studying it in college, but for now in high school, and with all the scholarly disagreement out there, I'm not sure where to start. So far I've looked into the essays of Dr. Alexander Pruss of Baylor U, Timothy McGrew's historical apologetics, and the papers in some reference volumes. I have something similar to C.S. Lewis's "socratic club" at my school, and though I'd like to contribute by speaking on natural theology I am afraid to misinform.

    For example, while preparing to articulate a theistic argument appealing to our "moral experience" as based on Bob Adams' version, I found that other prominent Christian philosophers such as Richard Swinburne wouldn't cite from morality for such and such reasons.

    Now, since it is philosophy I know I shouldn't be surprised, but I still feel I'd be more contributive if I knew the arguments of natural theology as developed from a wide range of leading philosophers. So, if you were to write such a post perhaps it would be helpful to many if you'd answer a few or all of the following questions:

    what are the good/best/most promising arguments to study that establish theologically significant conclusions (substantiating dualism, theism, etc),

    who's formulations of those arguments are the best,

    which Christian philosophers are worth reading reading natural theology in particular,

    and which essays/books (even if they don't all approach natural theology the same way or with the same arguments) would a person studying natural theology find helpful for developing informed opinions on these arguments? Thanks!

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  56. Professor Feser (or anyone else who'd be willing to answer), though I've enjoyed your occasional posts in which you list a number of links for your readers to follow, I was wondering if you'd be willing to make a similar list of specifically academic essays and books in philosophy--a "to read" list, and by "read" I really mean "study".

    Here you go, Jo.

    (Make sure you check out the links to Ed's "Scholastic's Bookshelf" near the bottom.)

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  57. Thanks John, I'll check it out! I've also been following the citations of Plantinga's lecture notes entitled "Two Dozen or So Theistic Arguments" to get a sense of the incompatibilities between various Christian philosophical traditions/opinions as I come to my own. That, and the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology are all I've found so far though. I'm sure I'll have to read up on the various approaches to natural theology by contemporary theistic philosophers if I am to develop and espouse an informed (or, at least, "studied") opinion. That in mind, if anyone else has some recommended resources--especially coming from other perspectives--please mention them at your convenience. Ideas like the Kripke-Wittgenstein argument from Plus and Quus are especially interesting to me because when I first began studying this I was reading certain well meaning, albeit philosophically naive theologians who gave simplistic "proofs" referred to as, for example, "The Teleological Argument" or "The Moral Argument" or "The Cosmological Argument" (as if there were only one of such arguments, and only one formulation of the particular one mentioned) that really only asserted their conclusions in generalized ways.

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  58. I should probably add to this: "what are the good/best/most promising arguments and their background information to study that establish theologically significant conclusions (substantiating dualism, theism, etc), "?

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  59. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  60. Red, this is off-topic. I don't know why you characterize my remark as "some scary stuff," since I didn't say anything one way or the other about whether Thomism is compatible or incompatible with evolution in general or Darwinian evolution in particular. What I did say is that that particular issue is irrelevant to the specific objections to ID I cited. So I don't know why you keep bringing up what Rob Koons and Logan Gage say about natural selection. If I say X and you ask about Y and I say "What I said about X has nothing one way or the other to do with Y" it misses the point to say "Wow, that's pretty remarkable what you just said about Y." I didn't say anything at all about Y except that it's not relevant to the thing that I was actually talking about.

    But again, this is off-topic, so no more threadjacking please.

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  61. Greg,

    "In Ross, 'pure function' is a term of art."

    And,

    "Feser points out an Aristotelian way of understanding this claim: the calculator is an artifact"

    Please explain what you see as the difference between these two sentences. To me, though the source of the art may be human in both cases, nevertheless the result looks suspiciously similar.

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  62. Vincent Torley,

    Whether we speak of intentionality, or of Mind, or of determinacy of meaning, or of the self / i-am, we’re reminded by physicist Sean Carroll of the distinction between [1] reality’s fundamental – or irreducible – nature and [B] the illusory X – or that which is fundamentally constituted not of “X” in any ontic-sense but, to borrow from D.B. Hart, of another, more basic “…irreducibly primordial datum…”

    I offered to you nature’s four irreducible interactions and, please, feel free to add anything from physics which you would like to add. Go wild with physics. It’s all there and it all reduces to a causal map quite problematic to your proposal *if* you are in fact affirming that intentionality, or Mind, or determinacy of meaning, and so on, house their own fundamental nature or irreducible substratum which breaks free of the causal map of physics such that, say, for example, upon death we find the perceiving-self yet persisting void of its material-self, even if in that state/condition the perceiving-self is factually incomplete.

    Think about what you are claiming and recall that any equivocation in your terms towards causation which ultimately reduces to the unintentional (…etc…) just won’t do. It seems God is irreducibly this or that X (….and so on….) and on the “principle of proportionate causality” it is not a metaphysical “problem” to find such within the fundamental nature of the Imago Dei.

    Question/Answer:

    If there is now reality's new/other irreducible nature or new/other irreducible substratum (….intentionality… Mind… determinacy of meaning…. the self….the i-am… etc….) which reality's old/other irreducible nature (…or substratum…) invented/caused, we must ask two questions:

    [1] Did reality's old/other irreducible nature (...substratum...) invent/cause the new/other irreducible nature intentionally or did it do so unintentionally?

    [2] Does reality now have two different irreducible natures (...substratum-s…)?

    If the answer to [1] is unintentionally, and the answer to [2] is “No”, then it seems the illusory presses in after all and Sean Carroll got it right.

    If the answer to [1] is unintentionally, and the answer to [2] is “Yes”, then it seems you’ve something akin to a kind of metaphysical absurdity to unpack for us or else you’ve a kind of bold equivocation in play. Not to mention the fact that you’ve a rather unscientific assertion where physics is concerned.

    If the answer to [1] is intentionally, and the answer to [2] is “Yes”, then it seems the usual arguments of final causes and… and…. and so on all come roaring in as some sort of dualistic arena manifests.

    You are claiming that there are interactions (and forces in play) other than strong and weak nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravitational. What is your evidence? It's okay to resist reductionism and to appeal to reality's irreducible nature somehow inventing reality's new/other irreducible nature. But I don't see that you've done that. You've claimed it. But what is this new/other irreducible nature which reality's old/former irreducible nature invented/caused (...on evidence...)? You’ve stated that quantum indeterminism is not sufficient, but then neither is [QI + Strong Nuclear + Weak Nuclear + Electromagnetic + Gravitational]. Feel free to add any fundamental – irreducible – force or interaction or causal “layer” to that equation as we explore the fundamental nature of reality.

    We are speaking here of reality’s fundamental nature and therefore we are speaking of content and also of causal interfaces. Therefore the following two quotes are of help.

    See the next comment………..

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  63. Vincent Torley,

    We are speaking here of reality’s fundamental nature and therefore we are speaking of content and also of causal interfaces. Therefore the following two quotes are of help:

    [1] Quote: “Talk of “reducing” mind to matter or “explaining” the former in terms of the latter disguises what is really an attempt to eliminate from our conception of the world everything that is essential to mind and to replace it with a materialistic-cum-mechanistic substitute. A “materialist explanation of the mind” is thus like a “secularist explanation of God” or a “mechanistic explanation of formal and final causes.” Secularism doesn’t “explain” God, but denies that He exists; mechanism doesn’t “explain” formal and final causes, but denies that they exist; and materialism ultimately doesn’t “explain” the mind at all, but implicitly denies that it exists. “Eliminative materialism” makes this denial explicit rather than implicit. It is sometimes characterized as an “extreme” form of materialism, but it is more accurately described as an “honest” or “consistent” form of materialism. It is also insane, and a reductio ad absurdum of the entire materialist project.” (End quote, by E. Feser)

    [2] Quote: “…its guiding premise— the arcane idea that somewhere out there, in principle at least, there exists an infinite narrative of physical particularities that could supplant all references to unified states of consciousness, without any empirical remainder— is not so much audacious as hallucinatory. At the apex of the mind, so to speak, there is the experience of consciousness as an absolutely singular and indivisible reality, which no inventory of material constituents and physical events will ever be able to eliminate. Here again, and as nowhere else, we are dealing with an irreducibly primordial datum.” (End quote, by D.B. Hart)

    Again, it’s agreeable to resist reductionism / eliminative materialism, or Sean Carroll’s intellectually honest nominalism vis-à-vis the illusory, but then we are back to that Question/Answer scenario described earlier in the previous comment.

    The other option (…perhaps…) for Monism is some sort of Panpsychism or perhaps Pantheism. A full blown Berkeley-esc Idealism will gain some traction but it seems to finish with some problems. All of those are off topic from the content here but if one of “those” are where you mean to originate or land then I’d be happy to offer an exchange or two over in that corner though not much more (…for the sake of the thread’s main topic…).

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  64. @ Don Jindra

    Please explain what you see as the difference between these two sentences. To me, though the source of the art may be human in both cases, nevertheless the result looks suspiciously similar.

    This page may remove your confusion.

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  65. (In short, you should take "pure function" as an atomic expression. A pure function is not necessarily a kind of function as an Aristotelian might otherwise use that term.)

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  66. Hi scbrownlhrm,

    One more thing: if there is now reality's new/other irreducible nature (intentionality... determined meaning etc...) which reality's old/other irreducible nature (..or substratum..) invented,
    [1] did reality's old/other irreducible nature (...substratum...) invent the new/other irreducible nature intentionally or unintentionally and
    [2] does reality now have two different irreducible natures (...substratums...)?


    A neutral monist could answer that both levels/aspects of reality (i.e. the physical and mental) are equally fundamental, and that both are irreducible.

    [1] Did reality's old/other irreducible nature (...substratum...) invent/cause the new/other irreducible nature intentionally or did it do so unintentionally?

    [2] Does reality now have two different irreducible natures (...substratum-s…)?


    The answer to [1], according to neutral monism, is that neither aspect/level of reality invented the other, intentionally or otherwise. Both were always there.

    The answer to [2] is: yes.

    Now you might say: isn't it very fortunate that reality just happens to have this mental aspect that is suddenly manifest when matter is configured in the right way? And I would answer: on a neutral monist account, it's very fortunate indeed. But there's nothing philosophically absurd or logically contradictory about believing that we're lucky. If you're going to make an argument against neutral monism, you're going to have to do better than that.





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  67. Vincent,

    We're finally getting somewhere. To be clear, do you have causal forces which at some ontological seam somewhere break free of the causal map that is the causal map of physics?

    Or have you embraced the inevitable pains of reduction there in the eliminatist's scrapbook?

    You started by stating quantum indeterminism is not sufficient.

    Now you *seem* to be claiming that [QI + Strong Nuclear + Weak Nuclear + Electromagnetic + Gravitational] all reverberate off of one another and unintentionally cause intentionality.

    But you're just foisting that without evidence. Or that bold equivocation is in play.

    Point to this causal nature in, say, the electron microscope. Why should you? Because every time you've pointed to an X so far all we've seen is nothing but QI + Four Friends.

    You've not shown us any other causation. In fact you've essentially claimed you're physical system can be reduced. The question now is even bigger: is the intentionality you speak of causally constituted of that golden thread referred to as final causes? If not then we're back to nothing but QI + Four Friends -- causally speaking.



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  68. Vincent,

    It might help if you just point to any causal X that is NOT nothing but QI + Four Friends.

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  69. Vincent,

    Just realized your comment on luck.

    But I've never argued that you're too lucky.

    I've asked for the causal map physics. Each unbroken chain of causation you've pointed to in every physical system in all of its interfaces has been causally constituted of nothing but QI + Four Friends.

    Luck / No-Luck is not part that observation.

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  70. scbrownlhrm,

    I notice when critiquing Carroll you haven't made distinction between strong and weak emergence. You think the arguments in your comment part 3(among your other arguments) above will undermine weak emergence just as strong emergence ?

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  71. Anon,

    Carroll seems to describe weak free will (...weak emergence...) as something lacking in ontology but which is a useful way of describing "X" in a certain setting. It's not clear that his nominalism has any give there, so I don't think a discussion on weak-free-will is a discussion on the topic of an ontologically real X in Carroll's view. In short there is no "new causal power" to refute.

    See http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2016/09/08/consciousness-and-downward-causation/ and also his link in that to https://mobile.twitter.com/seanmcarroll/status/666067938311454721

    Carroll comments:

    Quote:

    Massimo, thanks for the plug for the workshop. I haven't read Batterman's paper, but from your quotes above I suspect I would be tearing my hair out in frustration if I did. In particular, to claim that a phenomenon is emergent "if its behavior is not predictable given full knowledge of the behaviors of its parts, and if it is somehow new — most typically this is taken to mean that emergent phenomenon displays causal powers not displayed by any of its parts" seems unnecessarily contentious, and exactly why these discussions crash and burn almost immediately.

    If you believe in atoms and the laws of physics, the behavior of a gas of particles certainly *is* predictable given full knowledge of the behaviors of its parts, *in principle.* In practice, of course, it's hopeless, and it's much more sensible to use the renormalization group (or its moral equivalent) to talk about effective theories of thermodynamics and phase transitions etc. That setup is more than enough to have extremely interesting and productive conversations about reduction and emergence, without invoking new "causal powers" that seem incompatible with the straightforward mathematics.

    ......I don't know what it would mean to "derived physical reductionism," nor do I think that qualitatively new emergent behavior is absent from Newton's laws (depending on definitions). The point is simply that Newton's laws, applied to a set of particles, gives you a closed set of equations. With appropriate initial conditions, the solutions are unique. There is no room for additional causal influence. The equations give unique answers; you can't get a different answer without violating the equations.

    There is an important and interesting discussion to be had about emergence, and it has nothing to do with being unable to predict behavior from component parts, nor with new "causal powers."

    End quote. (...from http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2012/10/essays-on-emergence-part-i.html?m=1 ...)

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  72. Causally speaking, a galaxy meets the criteria of intentional given the definitions of emergentism. Layers upon layers of intentionless causes and directional function and tightening funnels and... and.... Name any layer and any repeating pattern and any condensing funneling of particles and directional functions inside the skull and the same "criteria" is found in the causal chain that is Chaos-To-Galaxy.

    It's just not taking place inside a skull. But *span* is irrelevant. It's about ever tightening funneling and repeating patterns and directional functions and....and....

    Since galaxies are intentionally doing what they do, and no new (...hard...) causal power has emerged, the bold equivocation in play becomes all too obvious.

    It is not begging the question to demand of the physicalist his physical evidence wrt physics. Until he can show us this new fundamental layer of causation it seems he is, on point of fact, equivocating.

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  73. Speaking of Galaxies, Neuronal Sodium Pumps, and Final Causes:

    "Hence to write many paragraphs about the scientific banishment of teleology from everywhere else in nature while insisting that teleology is real in the case of human beings, and then casually to insinuate that the history of that banishment gives hope that someday a scientific explanation of the teleology of human consciousness will also be possible… to do that is something of a conjuring trick, a bit of sleight of hand."

    From "Conjuring teleology" at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/03/conjuring-teleology.html

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  74. Greg,

    "Set is a term of art used by mathematicians, and burden of proof is a term of art used by lawyers."

    I don't know of a pure function called 'burden of proof.' Let's say we want to dig a hole. There is no pure function for digging holes. I've always considered Ross's 'pure functions' to be hopelessly vague. Now I think I have a better understanding of why that is. Art is the key word.

    It's easy to see calculators are an artifact. But addition of any kind is an artifact. It's a tool invented by human beings. That tool is an algorithm. We're taught that algorithm in grade school. At that point in our lives, that algorithm has a similar significance to brushing one's teeth. We do both to please adults. Other than that, they seem pointless.

    Ross's mistake is in muddling two separate things into an artificial whole. A 'pure addition' is a management function combined with a mechanical function. Addition is purely mechanical. That's why a computer can do it. The manager in us knows why we do it. It interprets the tool and its result as either good or bad. Ross has refused to combine that management function with the physical processing done by a calculator. But he combines the two inside our head. He has confused the issue by creating an unwarranted whole in one case, yet left the pieces as the should be in the other.

    IOW, addition is an artifact. It has a history of invention. It *just is* mechanical in nature. It's semantic-free symbol manipulation. That manipulation, whether in our heads or in a calculator, could be interpreted in ways other than the way we interpret it. Every criticism Ross aims toward a calculator could be likewise aimed at the addition he does in his head. This applies not only to addition, but every 'worker' function like addition. He just refuses to get inside his head and wrestle his management function from his mechanical functions. And if that's as vague as Ross's 'pure function', all I can say is that it's the nature of the topic.


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  75. Addition isn't an algorithm. If that were true, then it would not be the case that addition can be simulated by multiple algorithms.

    (The computer scientist in me also wants to deny that algorithms are artifacts, since they are, like numbers and Turing machines, abstract objects.)

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  76. Greg,

    That does not follow. Multiple algorithms can be used to implement *all* functions. There is no requirement that a function can be implemented by only one algorithm. Addition is definitely an algorithm. It's an easy algorithm to implement on a computer or on paper. And it's exactly how it's taught to children. If you are familiar with computer science this should be obvious to you.

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  77. @ Don Jindra

    Multiple algorithms can be used to implement *all* functions. There is no requirement that a function can be implemented by only one algorithm. Addition is definitely an algorithm.

    If a function can be implemented by two distinct algorithms, A and B, then it cannot be identified with both A and B. You could, by fiat, pick one algorithm which implements it and claim that it is that algorithm, but if you are going to do that, then you have to find some principled basis for picking out one algorithm rather than another.

    Addition is specified by input-output pairs. An algorithm for addition is the set of instructions which, given an input, yields the correct output pair. There are multiple--indeed, infinitely many--algorithms for addition. (Children learning Common Core math, in fact, don't learn the same one that I learned in elementary school.) Which of them is addition?

    The attempt to conflate mathematical functions and algorithms is hopelessly confused.

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  78. (See function and algorithm; anyone who claims a function is an algorithm is not using the terms as mathematicians and computer scientists use them.)

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  79. Ed Feser wrote:
    "So, the mitosis/schmitosis example is simply not relevantly parallel to Ross’s examples, because there is no semantic content involved in mitosis."

    It's true, there is no semantic content involved in mitosis. Why not? Because there are no signs/symbols involved in mitosis. Nonetheless, there is a determinate formal content involved in mitosis. That is, there is the (determinate) formal content we grasp when we understand what mitosis is. If we merely consider the possibility of schmitosis, that possibility is simply not relevant to our actual (determinate) knowledge of mitosis. If we observe something like schmitosis, that would not invalidate but augment our understanding of mitosis. Maybe I'm confused, but I wonder if it might not be more to the point to substitute 'semantic' for 'determinate' in Feser's summation of the argument.

    1. All formal thinking is semantic. 2. No physical process is semantic.
    3. Thus, no formal thinking is a physical process.

    James Chastek wrote:
    "I'm not sure if I'm missing some subtlety in Dillard's first objection, but why can't we just say that, for all we know, mitosis might be schmitosis while we in fact do know that we're plussing and not quusing? The mitosis/ schmitosis distinction can be treated as a variant of the grue-bleen problem, but on my reading of Ross he's claiming we know when some thought we are forming is modus ponens even if we don't know whether something we're looking at is green or grue, mitosis or schmitosis. Ross's point is that formal thought escapes the problem of induction even if inductions from sense can't. "Escaping the problem of induction" might not be a bad account of what Ross means by "determinate"."

    Here, we know that mitosis is not schmitosis because we know that our knowledge of mitosis comes from real experience and our 'knowledge' of schmitosis is strictly nominal, it's just something we've imagined as part of a thought experiment. (We know that green things are green and not grue for the same reason: green is a real category, grue is imaginary. If a green thing turned blue at time T, that would make it a green thing that turned blue at time T, not a grue thing.) If inductions from sense experience can't escape the problem of induction, then no inductions from sense experience are determinate formal thought, and thus no scientific knowledge is semantically determinate. But that's absurd.

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  80. It is quite clear by now that Don will make just any point, no matter how confused or silly, he thinks might vaguely strike at a particular non-materialist position he has in his sights. He has not the slightest idea what he is talking about.

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  81. scbrownlhtm,

    Each unbroken chain of causation you've pointed to in every physical system in all of its interfaces has been causally constituted of nothing but QI + Four Friends.

    Three points:

    (1) QI + Four Friends is not materialism. It's modern scientific materialism. What a neutral monist would maintain is that modern scientific materialism is incomplete: it doesn't tell the whole story.

    (2) I've already given you links to articles about feedback and feed-forward, which are processes known to occur in the brain and nervous system. Look up the article about them on Scholarpedia. Until you can show me that these processes work perfectly well without top-down causation, I shall continue to maintain that they constitute valid examples of top-down causation.

    (3) Physicists are able to detect forces. There is no such thing as a causation-detector in physics. Hence when someone like Carroll says that he can't detect top-down causation occurring in the brain, I would ask him: why would you expect to, anyway, and what makes you uniquely qualified to detect it? Please remeber: causation is not the same thing as force, as I've told you for the umpteenth time.

    Anyway, enough about me. I'm getting tired of answering questions about my model. If you get it, well and good. If you can't, bad luck. I can't explain myself any more clearly, and I refuse to say any more. Now I'm going to turn the tables on you. Explain your model. Are you a materialist or a dualist? If the latter, do you believe that our thoughts and decisions are efficient causes of our bodily movements? If so, how does this happen?


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  82. Greg,

    From the link you provided: "Some functions may be defined by a formula or algorithm that tells how to compute the output for a given input."

    I said: "That tool [addition] is an algorithm." Your link does not dispute that.

    A function is a black box. The box has inputs and output(s). An algorithm is what goes on in the box. If the algorithm implements the function, it's one version of function. The algorithm makes the function real, in a sense. Nobody here is more practiced in algorithms and functions than I am.

    But you're avoiding the issue I brought up with a tangent. Addition is a human invention. We implement it with algorithms either in our head or in a calculator. Until someone offers a good explanation as to why we ought to consider our head algorithm more special than the calculator's algorithm, Ross has no case. Now I'm off to work and my practice of algorithms and functions.

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  83. @ Don Jindra

    From the link you provided: "Some functions may be defined by a formula or algorithm that tells how to compute the output for a given input."

    I said: "That tool [addition] is an algorithm." Your link does not dispute that.


    Some functions may be defined by a formula or algorithm: not as a formula or algorithm. The map from algorithms to functions is many-one (which is to say that it is, itself, a function). So as far as an implicit definition is concerned, you can define a unique function by referring to an algorithm which computes it.

    That does not change the fact that there are also other algorithms which compute the same function, and thus one cannot say that the function is identical to the algorithm.

    And it remains a very straightforward error to attempt to say a function is identical to an algorithm. A function is a relation between two sets; an algorithm is a set of instructions. They are just very different things.

    Nobody here is more practiced in algorithms and functions than I am.

    This is a ridiculous comment.

    But you're avoiding the issue I brought up with a tangent.

    There is no need to address assertions founded on serious conceptual confusions.

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  84. So, for instance, the sort function maps items from the set of strings to the set of ordered strings. One algorithm which implements the sort function is BubbleSort, so I could say: "Let f by the function implemented by the BubbleSort algorithm." Now f refers to the sort function. But f is not an algorithm; it's just a map between the set of strings and the set of ordered strings.

    Of course, though you've still decided to stamp your feet and insist I am wrong, you now concede that algorithms and functions are not the same kind of thing:

    A function is a black box. The box has inputs and output(s). An algorithm is what goes on in the box.

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  85. I'll also add that the metaphor is objectionable. A machine that runs an algorithm can be used to compute a function (but here, the machine is a Turing machine, an abstract object; the algorithm is a list of propositions; and the function is a relation between two sets--so none of this is realized physically). But the metaphor limps in other cases; there are, for instance, uncomputable functions, functions for which there are no algorithms.

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  86. there are, for instance, uncomputable functions, functions for which there are no algorithms.

    That is, functions for which there are no algorithms assuming we place reasonable constraints on the resources available to acceptable algorithms. Computation theorists sometimes theorize, for instance, about what would follow if we had a black box that solves the halting problem, and each function could be said to be computable by the "trivial" algorithm which, in one step, computes the function.

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  87. Hey David,

    I hope you are doing well. Long time no see! :)

    It's true, there is no semantic content involved in mitosis. Why not? Because there are no signs/symbols involved in mitosis. Nonetheless, there is a determinate formal content involved in mitosis. That is, there is the (determinate) formal content we grasp when we understand what mitosis is.

    From an Aristotelian perspective, mitosis involves form of replication when one cell divides. The cells are a composite of form and matter. But our understanding of mitosis involves a reception of the form of the cell into our intellect, but stripped of its material particularity right? That way, now we have a series of recorded formal changes involved in mitosis that are universally applicable to all occurrences of the formal process involved in mitosis. That recorded process of change is not physically present in the cell. But what about the DNA? Does it not contain semantic content?

    Cheers,
    Daniel

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  88. Perhaps Don Jindra is 'hylemorphist' about functions. The (universal, intellectual) function is the form and the (particular, phantasmic) algorithm is the matter, giving concrete being to the form, and grounding particular implementations of the function-algorithm, which are the operations of the composite...?

    He notes that addition is a human invention. That sounds right, if we include the sense of invention as 'discovery' (uncovering, illuminating - the work of the agent intellect). But he sees not (perhaps it is truly *blindingly* obvious?) why "our head algorithm" is "more special" (not a very precise term of art, that) than "the calculator's algorithm." (It is hard not to be nonplussed by such non-seeing and wonder if it isn't feigned.) Addition is a human invention, in both forms of addition, "our head algorithm" (HA) and the external "machine algorithm" (MA). But the "head" form is 'more special' for at least the obvious reason that it logically and causally precedes the machine kind.

    But how? How does it do that? What is "human invention"? How is "human invention" possible? Presumably it has something to do with the native powers of the human "head" which are both instantiated in "head algorithms" (possible intellect) and the origin of those same algorithms (agent intellect), as well as being the origin of external machine instantiations thereof. And certainly this is "special"; certainly the making of equivalent claims for any external machine algorithm must involve special pleading.

    DJ writes: "We implement it with algorithms either in our head or in a calculator." - No. We are the algorithms "in our head," and we can never forego "head"-algorithms, they are as necessary for using a calculator (to add "outside our head") as for doing addition ("in our head").

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  89. @ David

    Perhaps Don Jindra is 'hylemorphist' about functions.

    Well, I think what he is ineptly trying to state is Rortyan pragmatism, which would do away with functions altogether and make do with algorithms (and it would get rid of algorithms qua mathematical objects as well--meaning just "what we do" by algorithms).

    And that has always been one of the options of responding to Ross's argument. It rejects the premise that we really add, infer, etc., and tries to argue that that is not a big deal. And Ross and Feser have their response to it.

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  90. Vincent Torley,

    We already know the forces in play via the map of physics cannot account for the forces you claim exist.

    That's obvious.

    We already know that those forces you claim exist are fundamentally reducible to the unintentional, to QI and Four Friends, and are therefore fundamentally reducible to the goal-less, as you yourself alluded to.

    That's obvious.

    Is there more? Or are you done?

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  91. Vincent,

    That reducibility to the fundamentally goal-less is the fundamental difference between you and Carroll (..on the one hand...) and the Christian metaphysic (...on the other hand...).

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  92. @Mr Green:
    Thanks for the response, though I still don't get the point at the end. And there is the form of this substance or that; since individual substances are separate from one another, we put that in words by saying "the form of humanity is numerically two in Socrates and Aristotle". (emphasis added)

    I don't get the "numerically two" part, as applied to forms. Does that mean merely that there are two different substances with the same form? If so, it seems a misleading way to put it.

    Can you (or can anyone else) point me to somewhere this particular issue is developed? I really can't find it in either Aristotle or Aquinas; in the former, all I can find leads me to my questioning of the matter.

    On a different note, is it Vincent's view that, ultimately, efficient cause is the real cause, the others being somehow derivative or lesser? Vincent made a response to me in an earlier thread, which I didn't see until too late to ask this there, but is it true that anything which is a mover is, necessarily, its efficient cause (rather than final, in this case)? That would seem odd to attribute to Aquinas, e.g., because it would make the one of the first two ways redundant.

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  93. @George LeSauvage

    I would very much like to see the implications of this worked out. It seems to say that Socrates and Aristotle have each their individual forms, distinct from one another;

    Right. A substantial form is a universal if and only if perfectly resembling (“qualitatively identical”) substantial forms (e.g. Socrates and Plato's humanity) are numerically identical. It's a particular if and only if perfectly resembling substantial forms aren't numerically identical. As far as I can tell, Aquinas holds that substantial forms are universals in minds, but particulars in material substances.*

    Dillard seems to slip up by assuming that because Ed thinks substantial form-universals exist only in minds, he thinks all substantial forms exist only in minds.

    that is to say, that each is a species, the way Aquinas says angels are.

    Aquinas would, I think, say that material substances' substantial forms are individuated by the individual parcels of matter that have them. (He seems to identify each parcel of materia secunda with a parcel of materia signata quantitate.) He would say they're what we now call “bearer-individuated”.

    (Since angels lack matter, their substantial forms need something other than matter to individuate them, and the whole each-angel-has-a-unique-species thing gets started.)


    *Some of Haldane's comments suggest this subject is controversial among Thomists.

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  94. scbrownlhrm,

    We already know the forces in play via the map of physics cannot account for the forces you claim exist.

    I'm not claiming any new forces exist. I'm claiming top-down causation exists, and that it does not require any forces. That's because it does not work by local pushing and pulling, but by local gating. It selects combinations of micro-states that aggregate to a desired macro-state corresponding to the desired movement. To repeat what I said earlier:

    "Consider the following two rows of digits:

    1 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 1
    0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 1

    "The above two rows of digits were created by a random number generator. The digits in some of these columns add up to 0; some add up to 1; and some add up to 2.

    "Now suppose that I impose the non-random macro requirement: keep the columns whose sum equals 1, and discard the rest. I now have:

    1 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
    0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0

    "Each row is still random (at the micro level), but I have now imposed a non-random macro-level constraint on the system as a whole (at the macro level). That, I would suggest, what happens when I make a choice. Choices are holistic events in the brain, which constrain not only the spatial pattern but also the temporal pattern of neuronal firings in the brain, leaving them random at the micro-level, but imposing a distinctive pattern at the macro-level, which varies with the choice being made."

    A constraint is not a push or a pull. It's more like a barrier.

    We already know that those forces you claim exist are fundamentally reducible to the unintentional, to QI and Four Friends, and are therefore fundamentally reducible to the goal-less, as you yourself alluded to.

    As I've already told you, I'm not positing any new forces. And no, physics hasn't succeeded in reducing feed-forward and feedback to "QI and Four Friends."

    And you still haven't told me what your alternative model of human action is. Are you ever going to?

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  95. Hi Daniel. Nice to connect with you here!
    "...we have a series of recorded formal changes involved in mitosis that are universally applicable to all occurrences of the formal process involved in mitosis. That recorded process of change is not physically present in the cell. But what about the DNA? Does it not contain semantic content?"

    I'd prefer to say we have *conceptualized*, rather than merely *recorded* what is involved in mitosis. ('Recorded' might be appropriate in the case of someone who memorized answers for a biology test without grasping what the test was actually about. Such a person would have a 'material' but not a 'formal' understanding of mitosis (or whatever).) DNA is physically present in the cell, so if DNA contained (actual) semantic content, *semantic* content (concepts) would be *physically* present in the cell, that is, in addition to the physical components of the cell (which is nonsense). On the other hand, the formal structure of DNA does contain semantic content *in potency*, since DNA is evidently something that can be (is in passive potency to being) conceptually understood by beings (like us) who have an active potency for understanding it (a more or less remote/proximate active potency, depending on the state of the individual's antecedent intellectual development).

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  96. @Greg:
    As you've pointed out, Don has (quite rightly) committed himself (even if he may be only dimly aware of having done so) to functions being really distinct from algorithms. So he'll have to retract this position of his (even if he may well do so without being aware of or acknowledging doing so) if he does want to take the line you suggest. (I don't suppose this will be news to you.)

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  97. Don, has no idea what he has committed himself too. He says anything that comes into his mind that he thinks might vaguely tell against a particular non-materialist argument in his sight. There is zero worth in arguing with him. Over many years, he has not shown the slightest indication he can discuss or even understand these topics properly.

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  98. Vincent Torley,

    We agree that pattern of the network, not the QI/4 (elementary particles / forces and etc.) constituting the network, is your "new". Your "intentional".

    No new forces exist and therefore there are no intentional forces -- as in force. As in work. As in doing. Yes the network arranged just-so funnels multiple arrays of QI/4 into ever tightening patterns amid twisting barriers. Yes, it's the *pattern* of [QI/4 X 1 Trillion] that is the [non-physics]. That's why (you tell us) that physics can't find it, map it, measure it.

    The problem is that you're only describing what I described in a galaxy: tightened funneling into directional vectors as Chaos-To-Galaxy demonstrates the emergence of intentionality. Only, in a galaxy the sheer number and array of QI/4 in that massive interlacing network dwarfs the number and array found inside any skull. It even does spirals and dips and extends -- not by push/pull but by its own internal barriers constituted of networks directionally feeding-forward their litany of vectors.

    I've just described a network and it's pattern and its changing posture based on (literally) trillions of feed-back bits of data being funneled into the network and generating an act.

    And the truth is that if we removed the label of "neuronal" and also the label "galaxy" and simply described the massive array of interfaces and feed-forward funneling into tightening funnels then you'd not be able to differentiate them as intentional or not.

    Networks are not isolated to skulls you know. And you can't have it both ways.

    The neuronal (...or galactic...) barricades which are accumulations of QI/4 in various arrangements are not of a different nature than QI/4.... which means what? Well it means you're not explaining intentionality, you're eliminating it. Why? Think about it this way: The fundamental nature of intentionality isn't intentional given that all we've done is stacked up layers of reality's fundamental nature.

    And we already both agree that physics cannot map it intentionality. And what is it that physics can't map? Well (you tell us) it is the *pattern* that is the bit that is [Non-Physics].

    But then you've no evidence that networks constituted of QI/4 have anything but [QI/4 + QI/4's-Pattern].

    Okay. Granted. On your terms physics cannot rule out what isn't physics so you've achieved immunity to the science of physics. Because [QI/4 + QI/4's-Pattern] isn't physics (you tell us).

    So it seems we agree as to what it is you're pointing to. I call it unintentional workers doing work. Or (unintentional) physics. You call it unintentional workers (arranged in networks) doing work. Or intentionality.

    It's great that you what Monism to be able to transcend physics such that the network of workers-doing-work actually does more than the workers do.

    But you've no final causes AND you've work being done by your array of workers, so we're back to our unlabeled network and I'll challenge you to tell us which is intentional and which isn't. Is it galactic or neuronal etc.? (...btw this presses in on the equivocation in the word "designed" as according to the Non-Theist factually undesigned networks (brains) factually design networks (airplanes).... ).

    It seems you almost *want* the evidence to lead you beyond physics. That's pretty satisfying to see as a Christian, I must say, because I agree with you that there is more to work -- to doing -- than physics. However, you've not only *not* shown us final causes, but, also, what you *have* shown us is nothing but [QI/4 + QI/4's-Pattern].

    You've arranged your [workers-doing] into a network and you want us to believe you when you tell us that there is more being done than what your workers are doing.

    Well, we can't believe you when you've only shown us your workers working.

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  99. Greg,

    "That does not change the fact that there are also other algorithms which compute the same function, and thus one cannot say that the function is identical to the algorithm."

    You should know I already know this. Scroll up to January 24, 2017 at 5:51 AM and read, "Multiple algorithms can be used to implement *all* functions. There is no requirement that a function can be implemented by only one algorithm."

    Unfortunately I've been too busy all day to respond properly to your post. I'll do so later.

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  100. scbrownlhrm,

    (Part 1 of 2)

    I have no idea what your last post was about. You used a lot of long sentences, high-flown metaphors and fancy jargon, when it seems to me that what you really wanted to say was this: the network in a galaxy dwarfs that inside the human brain, in complexity, so why don't we find intentionality in the behavior of galaxies? Also, why should we believe that intentionality exists within the human brain when you can't show it to us?

    There. That was so much more concise, wasn't it?

    One thing I would like to know. Are you an Aristotelian-Thomist or a New Atheist? Honestly, I can't tell where you're coming from, ideologically speaking, either from your tone or from what you write. You seem more science-literate than a typical Thomist, but you also seem to be a Christian(?) I've had atheists try to jerk my chain before by getting me to go on and on explaining my views, and I wasted dozens of hours trying to help them... only to find that they were winding me up. Never again! If you're one of those, then go home.

    To respond to your argument: let's start with galaxies. Your claim that the complexity of a galactic network dwarfs that of the human brain left me rolling on the floor laughing. Here's why.

    The human brain contains 11,500,000,000 cortical neurons. Each human cortical neuron has approximately 30,000 synapses per cell. (A transistor, by contrast, is not a neuron; it has only three contacts. I've argued elsewhere that the fantasy of the Internet becoming conscious is a pipe-dream, on purely computational grounds.) Consciousness, according to a 2005 essay by Seth, Baars and Edelman, involves "widespread, relatively fast, low-amplitude interactions in the thalamocortical core of the brain, driven by current tasks and conditions." Or as Dr. James D. Rose explains in "The Neurobehavioral Nature of Fishes and the Question of Awareness and Pain" (Reviews in Fisheries Science, 10(1): 1–38, 2002), primary consciousness "appears to depend greatly on the functional integrity of several cortical regions of the cerebral hemispheres, especially the 'association areas' of the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes." Also, according to Rose, a structure with a radically different structure from our neocortex would have a different function: whatever it would be for, it wouldn’t be consciousness. Therefore the odds that two structures as radically different as the human brain and the Internet would both be capable of supporting consciousness are very low indeed. Ditto for galaxies.

    Our galaxy is made up of 100,000,000,000 stars (or maybe four times as many) in the near-vacuum of space. Even though electromagnetic signals travel at the speed of light, the distances are so huge that even light takes 100,000 years to cross the Milky Way. There is nothing even remotely analogous to neurons in our galaxy, and the connectivity of the nodes (stars) is dwarfed by the rich connectivity of the human brain. So the brain has it all over the galaxy, in terms of complexity, speed and connectivity. We would therefore not expect the Milky Way to be conscious.

    What's more, the Milky Way isn't even alive, which means that it lacks intrinsic finality, and hence intentionality of any sort. (To be continued)

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  101. scbrownlhrm,

    (Part 2 of 2... and I hope that posting this doesn't swallow up Part 1, as sometimes happens on this blog...)

    I suggested above that the presence of intrinsic finality in a living body can be ascertained empirically by its possession of the following biological properties:

    a nested hierarchy of organisation (in which macromolecules are nested into organelles, organelles into cells [the building blocks of all living systems except viruses], cells are nested into tissues, tissues into organs, and organs into an organism);

    and

    embedded functionality (living things are built from the bottom up, by intrinsically adapted parts whose entire repertoire of functionality is "dedicated" to supporting the functionality of the whole unit which they comprise).

    A galaxy possesses neither characteristic. Nor do computers, at the present time. I conclude that neither galaxies nor computers are alive, conscious, capable of volition, or possessed of the kind of intentionality you have been talking about.

    It is empirically ascertainable that the human body satisfies the criteria for intrinsic finality which I listed above. In addition, feed-forward and feedback can be observed in the human brain. I don't know of anything even vaguely similar to that within our galaxy.

    END

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  102. @ Don Jindra

    You should know I already know this.

    Sure. That you acknowledge the truth of something inconsistent with the view that a function, addition, is an algorithm does not mean that the latter view is consistent with my claim. It just means your views are not consistent.

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  103. Vincent,

    Thanks for your links and comments. You're fun to read and also informative. Don't take my disagreement as a lack of respect for your work.

    That said:

    On life: Your definitions of life are arbitrary. You *do* know I hope that the newer, nervier New Non-Theists refute your life/non-life distinction. You assign meaning there but it's just that, assigned. See Feser's http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/03/stop-it-youre-killing-me.html

    It seems we agree as to what it is you're pointing to. I call it unintentional workers doing work. Or (unintentional) physics. You call it unintentional workers (arranged in networks) doing work. Or intentionality. [QI/4 + QI/4's-Pattern] isn't physics (you tell us), but there's no evidence that is true. Why? Because you point to a network of neuronal sodium pumps and we agree as to what it is you're pointing to. But all I see doing any work is physics and her army of unintentional workers. I call it unintentional workers doing work. Or (unintentional) physics. You call it unintentional workers (arranged in networks) doing work. Or intentionality.

    Fine. We don't disagree on the semantics -- only on the duo of the evidence and the sorts of work being done. And we obviously disagree on the content of reality's ontological seamlessness (physics) given that you arbitrarily isolate the brain from the galaxy which subsumes it and which directly feeds forward its vast array of data into it. I'm sorry but there is no ontological seam in physics -- in reality's fundamental nature.

    That nature isn't made up of little ontologically isolated boxes. You've arranged your [workers-doing] into a network and you want us to believe you when you tell us that there is more being done than what your workers are doing. Well what can I say to that when you've only shown us your workers work?

    I have to demand far, far more tangible evidence that Monism is up to the task of accounting for -- rather than eliminating -- our entire first-person experience.

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  104. Greg,

    I've been trying to understand where you're going with this function/algorithm thing. It seems like a tangent. The best I can guess is this: A function is exclusively a human thing whereas an algorithm might not have to be. Or maybe a function is a 'universal' whereas an algorithm is a particular, and it's this universal nature of a function that makes it determinate. Am I close? Probably not.

    Defining a function is trivial. It's the algorithm that's hard. I'm currently working on algorithms to detect steps, hand washes and hand gestures based on accelerometer x/y/z data. The function definitions are simple: Input x/y/z values, output a step. It's the algorithm itself that's difficult. So if you're trying to boost the status of function descriptions as compared to the algorithms under the hood, you won't connect with my experience.

    Btw, I've always denied that we don't really add, etc. To me that's more muddled than Ross's paper.


    David McPike,

    "But the 'head' form is 'more special' for at least the obvious reason that it logically and causally precedes the machine kind."

    Is this the rule of firstborns? I fail to see why a tool's historical order of appearance gives it a superior metaphysical position. I also fail to see how the ability to add in the head is 'logically' superior to addition in a calculator. What can logic mean in this context? To me the whole issue is about frame of reference.

    You claim invention of addition was an 'uncovering'. Are you talking about Plato's Meno? I don't think Plato made his case.

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  105. @ Don Jindra

    I've been trying to understand where you're going with this function/algorithm thing.

    I've only been pointing out that addition is not an algorithm, on which point you at times agree with me and at other times don't.

    A function is exclusively a human thing whereas an algorithm might not have to be. Or maybe a function is a 'universal' whereas an algorithm is a particular, and it's this universal nature of a function that makes it determinate. Am I close?

    No, I'm not trying to argue that functions are determinate. I am just pointing out that addition is not an algorithm. I don't think it is any less problematic to say that a physical system executes an algorithm than it is to say that a physical system realizes a pure function.

    Defining a function is trivial. It's the algorithm that's hard. I'm currently working on algorithms to detect steps, hand washes and hand gestures based on accelerometer x/y/z data. The function definitions are simple: Input x/y/z values, output a step. It's the algorithm itself that's difficult.

    This is what is called a hasty generalization. Often our goal is to compute a function, so we need to figure out an algorithm. But there are uncountably many functions out there, most of which have no comprehensible closed form, and there is nothing trivial about defining those. Many of those are not computable at all, but there's also no reason to think that, for some of them, there is any better way of defining them than specifying an algorithm.

    However, that's all beyond the point vis-a-vis Ross's argument. I don't think practical experience in computer science, or even familiarity with the theory of computation, is closely correlated with a correct understanding of the ontology of artifacts, functions, and algorithms. That much is clear.

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  106. Hi scbrownlhrm,

    Thank you for your comments. You write:

    On life: Your definitions of life are arbitrary. You *do* know I hope that the newer, nervier New Non-Theists refute your life/non-life distinction. You assign meaning there but it's just that, assigned. See Feser's http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/03/stop-it-youre-killing-me.html

    I've read Ed's article. He argues that to be alive means to exhibit two forms of causation: (i) transeunt (or “transient”) causation, which terminates in something outside the cause; and (ii) immanent causation, which is distinctive of living things and which terminates within the cause and tend to its good or flourishing. All very well and good, but the problem with this definition is that it supplies us with no procedures for determining whether something is alive or not. How should astronauts on Mars determine whether Mars has life, for instance? Feser's definition doesn't tell us. My definition, on the other hand, does: it tells us to look for entities exhibiting a nested hierarchy of organization and embedded functionality.

    Feser also objects to defining life in terms of its properties: "Growth, reproduction, and the like are key to understanding life, but they are not the essence of life. They are rather properties, which flow or follow from the essence. The essence is rather a matter of the capacity of a natural substance for immanent causation or self-perfective activity -- that is to say, the ability of a thing to act for the sake of its own good or flourishing." Yes, but how do we tell if a thing is acting fro its own good? Any definition of life which doesn't answer this question is obscurantist.

    Feser worries that some individuals organisms lack the properties we commonly associate with living things: mules, for instance, cannot reproduce. But all that tells us is that we cannot and should not define life in terms of operational properties, since defective organisms may be unable to perform the operations that characterize living things. The same objection would not apply to attempts to define life in terms of its organizational properties (e.g. a nested hierarchy), as both normal and defective organisms exhibit such a hierarchy.

    Finally, Feser writes that natural substances possess irreducible causal powers, but elsewhere in his Scholastic Metaphysics he admits that statements about potencies are always grounded in statements about actualities. This is true for both active and passive powers. I'm fond of using the example of a boxer, myself: the boxer's active power to deliver a punch is grounded in his actually possessing muscles and a bony skeleton to support them, while his passive power to receive a punch is grounded in his possession of flesh which can bruise. The powers of living things can all be explained in terms of their actual physical properties (anatomical, physiological and so on).

    One might object that a scientist could design a computer exhibiting the properties which I use to define intrinsic finality: a nested hierarchy of organization and embedded functionality. My response is that if the scientist could really make a computer with these features, maybe we should call it alive. (TBC)

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  107. (Continued)
    Hi scbrownlhrm,

    You add that my characterization of living things only shows us "unintentional workers doing work," but if you're talking of "aboutness," than I would say that the subsystems of a larger entity in a nested hierarchy are about the larger entity they comprise, since they subserve its end and promote its stability.

    Finally, you write that monism cannot account for "our entire first-person experience." All right: what about an animal's? Animals such as dogs have first-person experiences: they see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Surely you're not advocating dualism for dogs, are you?
    If animals have such experiences, then what you're really saying is that it's not first-person experience that's the mystery, but something more refined - e.g. language.

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  108. @Greg
    "I don't think it is any less problematic to say that a physical system executes an algorithm than it is to say that a physical system realizes a pure function."

    I'd say physical systems do execute algorithms. They also 'realize' (in some sense) pure functions. It's just that no physical system is per se constitutive of an algorithm as such (or a pure function as such). Am I wrong?

    @Don Jindra
    "Is this the rule of firstborns? I fail to see why a tool's historical order of appearance gives it a superior metaphysical position."

    No, certainly not. All man-made tools are metaphysical equals, as far as I can see. But the tool-maker himself is metaphysically superior, not because he is first historically (why would you even suggest this? red herring?), but for the reason I gave.

    "I also fail to see how the ability to add in the head is 'logically' superior to addition in a calculator. What can logic mean in this context? To me the whole issue is about frame of reference."

    The 'head' - i.e., person - is logically prior (not 'superior') because the person is what understands/conceives the addition (function) and formally constitutes it as such (in his thoughts or in his use of an adding machine - here we are talking about functions that are concepts and for concepts, to be is to be conceived); and he is what efficiently caused (and uses) the machine (algorithm) and formally constitutes it as such (as carrying out an adding algorithm). Note that the calculator executes the algorithm (a) only because a person made it to do so and (b) without understanding that it is doing so or that the algorithm it executes instantiates a function.

    "You claim invention of addition was an 'uncovering'. Are you talking about Plato's Meno? I don't think Plato made his case."

    What case of Plato's do you mean? I referred to 'uncovering' in connection with the Aristotelian notion of the agent intellect, simply as one of the basic senses of 'invention' and one which might be helpful to keep in mind in this context. One of the basic difficulties we face in having these discussions is that the meaning of what is being said is covered up because of habitual failures to grasp the systematic(ally different) way in which certain concepts are being used - and so of course the reasons justifying that systematic(ally different) use are also covered up.

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  109. @ David

    I'd say physical systems do execute algorithms. They also 'realize' (in some sense) pure functions. It's just that no physical system is per se constitutive of an algorithm as such (or a pure function as such). Am I wrong?

    Well, notice that I did not say that physical systems do not execute algorithms, and I did not say that physical systems do not realize pure functions. I said that the one is no less problematic than the other.

    That said, I do not think that physical systems execute algorithms or realize pure functions in the most straightforward way of taking those claims. In particular, there's no lower-level description of the motion of a constituent's constitutive parts that by virtue of satisfying that description counts as "executing an algorithm" or "realizing a pure function". That is perhaps what you mean by saying that "no physical system is per se constitutive of an algorithm as such (or a pure function as such)."

    But we might still opt to say that physical systems can execute algorithms and realize pure functions, if we revise our language. And I have no problem with that. Ross, in his paper, does insist on the language of the physical's simulating pure functions--when, for instance, I use a computer to help me realize a pure function--but there's no problem in principle with saying that we will instead continue to say that the physical can execute algorithms and realize pure functions.

    I'm personally inclined to do that, but it can be misleading if one is speaking to interlocutors who don't accept Ross's argument, just because it is clearer to have a debate over whether physical systems can only simulate pure functions than to have one over what it means to realize a pure function.

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  110. Vincent Torely,

    The alive-computer affirms my concerns about monism. It takes a few steps to get there:

    “Yes, but how do we tell if a thing is acting for its own good? Any definition of life which doesn't answer this question is obscurantist.”

    Hence the vacuity of Non-Theism. Reason has no proper end to chaser after as Hume reminds us, and Rosenberg, Sean Carroll, and Huse with him.

    “…both normal and defective organisms exhibit…”

    Without The Good you’ve no ontic-metric for normal/defective.

    “…can all be explained in terms of their actual physical properties…”

    You’re stopping your reduction there far too soon. Physical property of sarcomere length and calcium ion? And? Full stop?

    “…I would say that the subsystems of a larger entity in a nested hierarchy are about the larger entity they comprise, since they sub-serve its end and promote its stability….”

    But we’ve already seen that you have no “The Good” and therefore no *end*. Nor ontic-metrics of any kind. The about-ness is assigned by you – not the workers doing the work. There’s a difference.

    “…Surely you're not advocating dualism for dogs, are you?”

    You’ve listed the five senses, which isn’t enough for one thing, and, for another thing, it doesn’t address the trio of survivalism, corruptionism, and mereology. See [1] https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7SKlRTfkUieTVFfdl8xQjBnU2M/edit and also [2] http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/03/so-what-are-you-doing-after-your-funeral.html as the perceiving-self persists.

    Also, light causes many plants to turn their heads and face the sun. They see the light and react to the photons’ feed-forward data.

    But then there we are again arbitrarily calling one cascades of photons “alive” and another particle cascade “nothing but chemical reactions”. As if there’s a difference in their fundamental natures. As if there are two natures being observed.

    But it’s all just reverberating forces ricocheting off of whatever rebounding/recoiling forces are deflecting off of them. Stacking up layers of that, of reality’s fundamental nature, does not invent two fundamental natures.

    Because that’s impossible. And I think you stated at the outset that we agree on that point.

    So all that’s left is this: what is the fundamental nature of network, of the stacked-up-layers-of-unintentional-work? Well, you say physics is not the pattern, just the cascades which constitute the pattern, hence physics cannot measure the pattern. It’s the *pattern* of the network which is beyond “nothing-but” physics.

    Which of course cannot be true – otherwise you’d have no scientific means to say that there’s even a pattern in-play. But we *can* measure the pattern – and we use nanometers and weak nuclear forces and what-not to measure all the sodium pumps and the patterns of discharges and so on. John Searle’s silicon (brain) chip gets us there as well. *IF* physics could not measure the pattern *THEN* you’d have no way to build that alive-computer you mentioned earlier. Nor Searle his silicon chip. But you state that you *can* build that alive-computer. But you also say that your tools by which you build it (physics) cannot see what it is you’re building.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    On Monism, intentionality / about-ness are not explained, they are eliminated.

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  111. Greg,

    "I've only been pointing out that addition is not an algorithm, on which point you at times agree with me and at other times don't."

    In discussions like this there are two traps that seem almost impossible to avoid. Either we put too much emphasis on understanding words or not nearly enough. Or we do both at the same time. Let's say addition is a function. What do we call the algorithm that implements addition? It's not enough to simply label it an algorithm, as if it longs to snuggle with the bake-a-cake algorithm more than it longs to snuggle with the function of addition.

    An airplane flies from Los Angeles to Dallas. Or does it? Is it more correct to say the pilot flies from Los Angeles to Dallas? What about the passengers? Or the airline company? The passengers and pilots will say they fly from Los Angeles to Dallas. The company executives make the same claim even though they remain on the ground. The airplane is silent on the matter and doesn't want to go anywhere. Yet it does the real flying. All the philosophy and metaphysical rhetoric you can muster will never convince me the airplane does not fly both functionally and physically (aka, algorithmically). I believe it's not only proper to say the airplane flies, it's more accurate than to say the pilot flies. This is more-or-less how I view addition. With addition specifically, it's almost impossible to separate the generalization of function from the specific algorithms that implement the function. Doing so is probably a reflection of point of view more than an objective reality.

    In short, I don't think it's at all problematic to say a physical system flies or pumps or executes an algorithm. The claim that it is problematic seems to deny cause and effect. It implies effect is all in our head. Effect (aka, function) becomes what we want from something rather than what is.

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  112. David McPike,

    The 'head' is composed of parts, or functions. There is a desiring self and a 'physical' self that the desiring self uses to achieve goals. I think the A-T philosopher affirms this in different language. My point is this: The desiring self uses the 'physical' self when it wishes to add. But it's the 'physical' self that does all the adding. I agree that the desiring self invented the physical process of addition, and organized brain connections to achieve that goal, and even oversees its operation -- pilots the plane, so to speak. But I see no difference in that invention and the invention of a calculator, except in historical terms. My position is that Ross conflates the desiring self with the 'physical' self. A 'pure function' is that artificial synthesis. But that artificial synthesis could be equally applied to anything we do, so that there is a 'pure picking of the nose' that's every bit as metaphysically significant as his 'pure addition'.

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  113. @ Don Jindra

    Let's say addition is a function. What do we call the algorithm that implements addition?

    What do you mean the algorithm that implements addition? There are infinitely many algorithms that implement addition.

    With addition specifically, it's almost impossible to separate the generalization of function from the specific algorithms that implement the function. Doing so is probably a reflection of point of view more than an objective reality.

    This is totally wrong. Here are two easily distinguishable algorithms for the same function, addition:
    (1) add terms bitwise from right to left, carrying over as appropriate into the next column;
    (2) while B > 0, subtract 1 from B and add 1 to A.

    And it is easy to recognize the distinction between function and algorithm in other places. As I mentioned already, there is the sort function, and then there are the clearly distinct algorithms which implement it, like BubbleSort, MergeSort, HeapSort, etc. It is not "almost impossible" to separate these things. That someone who does work in computer science would say such a thing is astonishing and desperate.

    In short, I don't think it's at all problematic to say a physical system flies or pumps or executes an algorithm. The claim that it is problematic seems to deny cause and effect.

    I have no problem with saying that physical systems fly or pump. My beef with saying that they execute an algorithm is that an algorithm is a set of instructions, i.e. a list of propositions, and whether some physical transition counts as "adding 1" is, I think, indeterminate in the same way physical states are vis-a-vis pure functions generally.

    Anyway, I think I've said my part here, and I'm not going to keep clarifying, so have the last word if you'd like.

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  114. @Greg;
    "I do not think that physical systems execute algorithms or realize pure functions in the most straightforward way of taking those claims."

    I guess I disagree about what is "the most straightforward way." I think your 'personal' inclination (to use the allegedly problematic language) is well-founded. That use is actually the 'right' way to take those claims (although vis non in verbis). I think that the claim that the physical 'simulates' the conceptual is actually more problematic. That risks giving the impression that the physical imitates the conceptual (like a flight simulator, or virtual reality), whereas the two are actually completely distinct modes of being.

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  115. Greg,

    "I have no problem with saying that physical systems fly or pump. My beef with saying that they execute an algorithm"

    And I say there's no justification for saying there is a difference there. For example, you zero in on the fact that there are multiply algorithms (methods) for addition and sorting, yet ignore the fact that there are multiple methods for flying and pumping.

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  116. @ Don Jindra

    "I agree that the desiring self invented the physical process of addition, and organized brain connections to achieve that goal, and even oversees its operation -- pilots the plane, so to speak. But I see no difference in that invention and the invention of a calculator, except in historical terms."

    'Invention' here is not being used univocally. The 'desiring self' certainly did not 'invent' any physical process instantiating an algorithm for performing addition by organizing brain connections in anything like the same sense in which it 'invented' a machine that could carry out such an algorithm. If you fail to see any but an historical difference in these kinds of 'invention'... well damn, that's just crazy! It's just not remotely believable as a serious position.

    In any case, you perhaps grant what really matters? You seem to recognize that it is the pilot that pilots the plane, that makes it fly (in some important sense). The plane does the flying, but only because the pilot makes it. That's not disputable. The pilot's piloting (even auto-piloting) is ('metaphysically') different from the plane's flying, because (or insofar as) it involves conceptualization (think "immaterial aspects of thought") of the physical process (perhaps in terms of various algorithms, which by design are instantiated by physical processes), not just the physical process itself. (When a bat flies, by contrast, it has no need to (and doesn't) conceive that it is flying, any more that it conceives that it's cells are mitosis-ing when they are mitosis-ing.) That piloting a plane normally involves all sorts of conceptualization of the physical processes involved in flying, in addition to the physical process of flying, is also indisputable.

    "My position is that Ross conflates the desiring self with the 'physical' self. A 'pure function' is that artificial synthesis. But that artificial synthesis could be equally applied to anything we do, so that there is a 'pure picking of the nose' that's every bit as metaphysically significant as his 'pure addition'."

    Huh? Ross certainly does not do that. How?? That claim seems completely bass-ackwards. (You seem to understand little bits and pieces, but then turn around and get completely mixed up, as if you're prone to forgetting the meanings of the words you're using - you're like the embodiment of a Wittgensteinian thought experiment, the guy who seems to get some concept (like counting by twos) but then inexplicably starts doing something different.) As far as nose-picking, certainly we can conceptually understand nose-picking no less than we can conceptually understand addition. But again, conceptually understanding nose-picking is ('metaphysically'!) quite different from physically picking your nose.

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  117. David, you do know in years and years, Don has been completely incapable of even showing a proper understanding of the arguments of Ross or of anyone else. He will just repeat claims that seem to him vaguely like they land a punch on Ross, blissfully unaware, or simply not caring, that they do no such thing. Some of his highlights include claiming Ross begs the question because his conclusion follows from his premises!

    He will jump from one claim to another, without even seeing they are different claims. He has already humiliated himself in this thread when he, as a computer scientist, showed he didn't understand the difference between a function and an algorithm, but he doesn't care. You are entirely wasting your time in interacting with him.

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  118. Hi scbrownlhrm,

    In a previous post, I asked:

    “Yes, but how do we tell if a thing is acting for its own good? Any definition of life which doesn't answer this question is obscurantist.”

    Your answer was: "Hence the vacuity of Non-Theism." Que? I don't see the connection. My question was a perfectly reasonable one. If we get to Mars, how do we figure out whether it has life or not? You failed to provide even the outline of an answer.

    You seem to think there is something deeply mysterious about "acting for its own good." Not so. It simply means: "acting in such a way as to preserve the structure and/or function of the whole." Nothing mysterious about that.

    I should add that there are various forms of intentionality: some (found in microbes, plants and animals) purely biological and some (e.g. those relating to the propositional content of our language) transcending the biological.

    You also write: "Without The Good you’ve no ontic-metric for normal/defective." True. But what I maintain is that The Good cannot be defined without reference to an organism's form - specifically, its structure and the flow of control of its operations.

    I also suggested that the subsystems of a larger entity in a nested hierarchy are about the larger entity they comprise, since they subserve its ends and promote its stability. You replied that in this case, the aboutness is assigned by me, rather than the workers doing the work. I disagree. It is a simple matter of observation as to whether certain lower-level activities help to keep a higher-level system together or not, and whether they contribute to its continued functioning or not. Observation can also ascertain whether all of the lower-level activities of a system are of this sort or not. If the answer is yes, then we can speak of dedicated functionality and hence life.

    Re human thought: I do not actually believe that neutral monism is a true account of the human mind. Nevertheless, I believe that the freedom of the will is such an important issue that it would be wrong to tie it to any particular theory of the mind-body relationship. Our whole legal system rests upon it. Hence my attempt to argue that even if monism were true, libertarian freedom would still be a tenable option.

    Although I'm a dualist of sorts, I'm uneasy with dualism because of its failure to provide a coherent account of how the mind gets the body to do what it wants. Professor Feser waves the problem away by turning our thoughts and intentions into purely final causes, rather than efficient causes. But that doesn't explain what makes my arm go up when I decide to raise my hand. If it's not my decision to do so, then that just leaves low-level neural processes. And if these are determined by (QI and Four Friends) as you seem to think, then freedom is not.

    I'll stop here, as I've written for long enough.

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  119. David McPike,

    Of course the desiring self invented the addition algorithm. Humans invent because we desire things. The desire isn't even controversial. The controversy is whether creation and invention -- math, language, arts -- are due to 100% organization of brain cells or something less than 100% with a mystical immaterial substance making up the difference. That is the very thing in dispute. For you to say one locus of such invention 'certainly did not' happen and is 'crazy' is simply to beg the question. Plus, I'm supposed to allow your mystical immaterial stuff as if that's not crazy. You amuse me.

    "The plane does the flying, but only because the pilot makes it."

    So it appears we can agree that the plane really does fly. We can't make the claim that its behavior is indeterminate, no matter who or what is at the controls. The pilot will not be able to make it swim or dance. No matter what he conceives, its behavior is not determined by his moment to moment whims. Same with the calculator. It adds.

    "But again, conceptually understanding nose-picking is ('metaphysically'!) quite different from physically picking your nose."

    Yes, that's what I understand Ross to be saying, and that's all he's really saying. But the most accurate translation is this: "Man is the Measure of All Things."


    Anonymous,

    After years of taking your collective best shots, I'm more confident than ever that I'm more right about these issues than anyone here (that includes what I've said about algorithms and functions). I'm especially right about Ross. I get the impression many of you folks consider yourselves philosophers. Yet you don't even understand that Ross merely begs the question. How humiliating is that? I've learned a lot here over the years. I'm thankful for the directions I've been pointed even if it was intended as a swat at my butt. But the main thing I've learned is that philosophers rarely know how to think better than the average Joe.


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  120. Anonymous,
    Don Jindra is obviously an absurdly bumptious fellow who very often has no clue what he's talking about. However, there seemed to me to be something to his objections to Greg, insofar as Greg was insisting on using terms in an unnecessarily narrow way. But I think you're right that Don's problems are likely not amenable to rectification by rational argument. He apparently has little ability and/or inclination (desire) to actually understand what we're ostensibly discussing here. But he's still an interesting fellow, like the imaginary(?) fellow Wittgenstein discusses.

    Don Jindra,
    "The desire isn't even controversial"? Seriously, Don? Of course 'the desire' is controversial. That there is something rightly called 'desire' isn't controversial, but how it relates, causally and logically, to function-concepts, such as addition, is obviously controversial. That you apparently fail to see that that is the relevant issue here demonstrates the abysmal level of your average-Joe philosophizing. You are simply incapable of seeing what is at issue and addressing yourself to it in any remotely intelligent, effective way.

    "So it appears we can agree that the plane really does fly." Yes, Don. The plane really does fly. We obviously agree about that. The question is: Who ever disagreed with this claim? You're tilting at windmills, aren't you, Don --?

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  121. David, no, you will quickly discover he is extremely tedious. It once caused him to be banned from here. You will soon lose all relish for his conversation when you realize nothing can get through to him. Just ask him how he thinks Ross begs the question. He doesn't just mean in one way. There's been a dizzying array of reasons over the years, each more stupid than the last. If Don is correct, Ross must hold some kind of record for the most ways to beg the question in one argument. He even had the gall to have his conclusion follow from his premises, the swine. Greg was simply giving us a useful illustration that Don doesn't know what he is talking about.

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  122. Vincent Torley,

    I agree with your concerns about the interface of ethics and this or that T.O.E or metaphysics. I’ll close with that “part” of your comment. But first:

    Part 1 of 2:

    “…It simply means: "acting in such a way as to preserve the structure and/or function of the whole." Nothing mysterious about that…”

    Yes your arbitrary definition is quite clear. However, the seamless continuum of particle (…or whatever…) in motion that reality is not *only* going to ultimately contradict you with its own non-arbitrary nature/essence but *also* in doing so it shall affirm its eternally open ended drift. No Closure, so no End. No End, so no The-Good. No The-Good, so no (…shall we say….) “ontic-metric”.

    Drift is tough on rulers and metrics. I ought to know. Just the other day I measured ONE scoop of ice cream and – as if my magic – THREE ended up in my bowl. :-0

    Our cul-de-sac is fine – but that you want us to believe you when you tell us it defines the whole show just won’t do – not without some sort of metaphysical wellspring of all ontological possibility which in fact gives closure on your radical claim with respect to the irreducible substratum of reality.

    “…..I also suggested that the subsystems of a larger entity in a nested hierarchy are about the larger entity they comprise, since they subserve its ends and promote its stability….”

    But we’ve just seen that they in fact can’t do any such thing.

    “……those relating to the propositional content of our language) transcending the biological…..”

    It’s difficult to know what you mean by “transcend” given the fact that nature’s fundamental nature is not *only* going to ultimately contradict you with its own non-arbitrary nature/essence but *also* in doing so it shall affirm its eternally open ended drift.

    It’s not apparent (…given all of that….) that anything is transcending anything else.

    The rest of your comment makes good sense, and I’ll refer you back to the problem of the Living-Computer and the two contradicting premises which you have there. I’ll repeat that short blip for context here:

    Begin excerpt:

    What is the fundamental nature of the [neuronal] network, of the stacked-up-layers-of-unintentional-work? Well, you say physics is not the pattern, just the cascades which constitute the pattern, hence physics cannot measure the pattern. It’s the *pattern* of the network which is beyond “nothing-but” physics.

    Which of course cannot be true – otherwise you’d have no scientific means to say that there’s even a pattern in-play. But we *can* measure the pattern – and we use nanometers and weak nuclear forces and what-not to measure all the sodium pumps and the patterns of discharges and so on. John Searle’s silicon (brain) chip gets us there as well. *IF* physics could not measure the pattern *THEN* you’d have no way to build that alive-computer you mentioned earlier. Nor Searle his silicon chip. But you state that you *can* build that alive-computer. But you also say that your tools by which you build it (physics) cannot see what it is you’re building.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    End excerpt.

    See the next comment.......

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  123. Vincent,

    Part 2 of 2:

    “…..I believe that the freedom of the will is such an important issue that it would be wrong to tie it to any particular theory of the mind-body relationship. Our whole legal system rests upon it. Hence my attempt to argue that even if monism were true, libertarian freedom would still be a tenable option…..”

    It seems to me that if one of the concerns with respect to the nature of volition (….the better term is intentionality….) is of a moral nature with respect to ethics, then that is *not* a part of the same discussion but in fact brings in another – separate – line of accounting which one now has to do on top of the accounting of intentionality. Now, if *one* line of accounting (…vs. eliminating…) leads us out of a pure monism, and, then, some *other* line of accounting also begins to compel logic in the same direction, then it seems one might address that (valid) concern about ethics with [1] lines of evidence rather than with [2] hypothetical Even-If-True/Then-Still-Tenable scenarios.

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  124. Vincent,

    With respect to ethics as such relates to what reason perceives in natural theology (....goals.... the good of A or B or C....) and which the Non-Theist also perceives (...reason as truth-finder at work etc...) the following might be helpful:

    “That is one reason I think it is *not* quite right to claim that there can be no justification of morality if atheism were true.” (E. Feser)


    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/04/a-second-exchange-with-keith-parsons.html


    "Many theists and atheists alike suppose that to link morality to religion is to claim that we could have no reason to be moral if we did not anticipate punishments and rewards in an afterlife. I am sure Keith would reject such a line of argument, and I reject it too. To do or refrain from doing something merely because one seeks a reward or fears reprisals is not morality. I would also reject the related but distinct claim that what makes an action morally good or bad is merely that God has commanded it, as if goodness and badness were a matter of sheer fiat on the part of a cosmic dictator who has the power to impose his will on everyone else. This too would not really be morality at all, but just Saddam Hussein writ large. So, I reject crude divine command theories of morality. That is one reason I think it is not quite right to claim that there can be no justification of morality if atheism were true; or at least, what (probably) most people understand by that claim is, in my view, false. Crude divine command theories simply get morality wrong. They get God wrong too."

    ReplyDelete


  125. Vincent,

    FWIW:

    On the question of ethics, it’s always best to follow the evidence. If we confront multiple reductio-s (….to absurdity etc.) by committing ourselves to Monism regardless of the cost, then perhaps that cost is telling logic to go in another direction. Especially if many different lines begin to all offer the same problem.

    Reason perceives the Good, which you (rightly) reference, however, reason is obligated – in her role as truth-finder – to chase after the fundamental nature of X, whatever X is. Reason is not obligated to ethics as such. If the irreducible substratum of reality is in fact love’s timeless reciprocity – there amid “one-another” – well then everything changes with respect to reason as truth-finder, reality, truth as such, and reason’s obligation. The rational just might be ontologically seamless with the moral.

    The problem is that there’s only one genre on planet Earth where we find any such “metaphysical wellspring of all ontological possibility”.

    It is in the Christian’s thoroughly Trinitarian metaphysic.

    So, that said, in a thread titled “God Is Necessary & Not Necessary For Morality?!” at http://christianapologeticsalliance.com/2017/01/18/god-is-necessary-not-necessary-for-morality/ I’ve offered a series of comments on that approach as such ties into that perceived Golden Thread of Reciprocity.

    We can’t go wrong following the evidence as such pushes on logic and reason (…and let me add love for the sake of the Christian’s metaphysic….). If Monism keeps causing us to expunge not just one but in fact *different* layers of our first-person experience, first in intention, then in the moral, then in the ….. and then in the…… such that absurdity ensues inside of one of solipsism’s many cousins, well then reason as truth-finder is rational to go in some other direction.

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  126. Justice for JindraJanuary 29, 2017 at 4:00 PM

    Jindra's nonsensical diatribes and utter lack of education and coherence extend to pretty much every subject discussed on this blog, be it theology, science, logic, mathematics, or even his own profession. Contrary to his assertion above, he is not here to learn anything, but to "set straight" other contributors, often in a self-aggrandizing manner, especially and notably those who are actual experts in one or more of the aforementioned disciplines. He is the quintessential Dunning-Kruger case who would have to become at least a hundred times smarter only to be able to realize how stupid he is. Until such time, he is indeed best avoided.

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  127. Vincent Torley,
    I am afraid I barge in your discussion with
    but there is one point I think both of you are missing. That point is often made by Feser though.

    You say
    "If it's not my decision to do so, then that just leaves low-level neural processes"

    The laws of physics are an abstraction. Prof Feser has eloquently written that
    " There is
    far more to material systems than what can be captured in the equations
    of physics".
    Physics deals with quantitative aspects of material things but these things have qualitative aspects as well. I suspect that the problem you are referring to "me vs my low-level neurons" involves these qualitative aspects. Same might be true for life as well.

    ReplyDelete
  128. Vincent Torley,
    I am afraid I barge in your discussion with
    but there is one point I think both of you are missing. That point is often made by Feser though.

    You say
    "If it's not my decision to do so, then that just leaves low-level neural processes"

    The laws of physics are an abstraction. Prof Feser has eloquently written that
    " There is
    far more to material systems than what can be captured in the equations
    of physics".
    Physics deals with quantitative aspects of material things but these things have qualitative aspects as well. I suspect that the problem you are referring to "me vs my low-level neurons" involves these qualitative aspects. Same might be true for life as well.

    ReplyDelete
  129. Hi scbrownlhrm,

    Before I respond to your posts, I'd like to comment about your writing style. In response to my suggestion that we can identify systems possessing intrinsic finality by the fact that their parts act in such a way as to preserve the stability and continued functioning of the whole, you wrote:

    "Yes your arbitrary definition is quite clear. However, the seamless continuum of particle (…or whatever…) in motion that reality is not *only* going to ultimately contradict you with its own non-arbitrary nature/essence but *also* in doing so it shall affirm its eternally open ended drift. No Closure, so no End. No End, so no The-Good. No The-Good, so no (…shall we say….) 'ontic-metric'."

    I have no idea what you're trying to say, here. I simply can't understand your English. Since I'm an educated native speaker (B.Sc., B.A., B.Ec., M.A., Ph.D., Grad.Dip.Ed.), I think the problem is not my stupidity, but your convoluted and overly florid way of expressing yourself. Maybe your English teacher told you to write like that at school. She was wrong. Please don't: it hurts my head to read sentences like that, and it impedes clear communication. Please write in clear, simple prose, as George Orwell recommended in his online essay, "Politics and the English Language" (see http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/ ). Here's what I think you meant to say:

    "I understand your definition of life, but I think it's arbitrary. And anyway, it won't work. Living things are composed of particles in a state of perpetual flux. They're open systems, whose bottom-level components [subatomic particles] are drifting in and out all the time. There's simply no way that these particles, which are always coming and going, could be dedicated to the good of the whole that they comprise. And if they're not, then there's no intrinsic finality, after all."

    And here's my reply: yes, it's true that the particles in living things come and go. But it's also true to say that while they're there, in the bodies of living things, they do a useful job. We can point to individual bio-molecules (e.g. proteins, carbohydrates and fats), which are made up of these particles, and talk about their role in supporting the functioning of a living organism. So yes, there is measurable, observable finality. No problem here.

    You raise the problem of a living computer. But Ed's account of intrinsic finality is vulnerable to the same criticism. In his 2010 post, "Id theory, Aquinas and the Origin of Life," he allows for the possibility that scientists in a laboratory could generate life. Sure, he says the things would have to be brought together in a certain way. But there's nothing in his analysis that precludes the possibility of building a living computer. Go and check it out.

    If neutral monism is correct, then one could (in theory) build an intelligent living thing, able to make libertarian choices, in this way. You propose a dilemma, relating to whether physics can measure the pattern of top-down causation that occurs in free choices or not. I should point out that this pattern is much more sophisticated than the pattern that defines a living thing, and quite distinct from it. Intrinsic finality has to do with the way the parts support the whole. This pattern can be described in chemical terms. The kind of pattern found in top-down causation, which occurs when we make a free choice, is different. It is built upon, but is not reducible to, biochemistry. As I wrote above, it consists of macro-level restrictions on combinations of micro-states which are incompatible with the free choice made by the individual. All that a chemist could observe is that certain combinations of micro-states never occur while the individual is in that frame of mind (i.e. while he/she has that intention). More later.

    ReplyDelete
  130. Hi scbrownlhrm,

    I wrote a reply several hours ago, but it seems to have vanished into the ether. I'll try again. In response to my suggestion that intrinsic finality can be defined clearly and simply, as the parts of a system "acting in such a way as to preserve the structure and/or function of the whole," you wrote:

    "Yes your arbitrary definition is quite clear. However, the seamless continuum of particles (…or whatever…) in motion that reality is not *only* going to ultimately contradict you with its own non-arbitrary nature/essence but *also* in doing so it shall affirm its eternally open ended drift. No Closure, so no End. No End, so no The-Good. No The-Good, so no (…shall we say….) 'ontic-metric'...

    "Our cul-de-sac is fine – but that you want us to believe you when you tell us it defines the whole show just won’t do – not without some sort of metaphysical wellspring of all ontological possibility which in fact gives closure on your radical claim with respect to the irreducible substratum of reality...

    "The rest of your comment makes good sense, and I’ll refer you back to the problem of the Living-Computer and the two contradicting premises which you have there."

    I have to say that you have a rather florid way of expressing your ideas, that makes it almost impossible for me to understand what you're saying. I prefer spare, simple and jargon-free prose. I also like short sentences. I have no idea what a "metaphysical wellspring of all ontological possibility" is, and I don't know what my "radical claim with respect to the irreducible substratum of reality" is supposed to be. That's the way Continental philosophers love to write, which is why nobody reads them. I come from the "Anglo" tradition: to me, writers like Sartre and "Das Nicht nichts" Husserl sound like they're waffling. Allow me to translate what you wrote into standard English (at least, I think this is what you meant):

    "Your definition of intrinsic finality is clear, but arbitrary. Machines (e.g. computers) could be built that would satisfy that definition. Would they be alive? What's more, the ultimate components of a living organism are the subatomic particles that make up the atoms and molecules in its body. But these particles are in a state of continual flux: they're coming and going all the time. In such an open system, it's simply absurd to say that these particles are in any way dedicated to the functioning of the whole they comprise. At the bottom level of reality, then, finality is absent, on your account."

    Two quick points in reply. (To be continued)

    ReplyDelete
  131. (Continued)

    (1) Ed's analysis is just as vulnerable to the Living Computer objection as mine is. In a 2010 post titled, "ID theory, Aquinas, and the origin of life: A reply to Torley" at http://edwardfeser.blogspot.jp/2010/04/id-theory-aquinas-and-origin-of-life.html , Feser granted the possibility that scientists could one day "generate life in a laboratory using purely inorganic materials" (I think he meant non-living materials), IF "the scientists did something to the raw materials that could not have happened in the absence of an intelligence like their own" (e.g. God or an angel). If Feser acknowledges that, then he cannot deny the possibility that scientists could one day make a living thing, by building a computer from organic materials and putting its parts together in such a way that some of the causal processes occurring in them proved beneficial for the whole.

    The only thing that divides Ed and me is how we define intrinsic finality. He takes the notion of "benefiting the whole" to be basic and unanalyzable, whereas I attempt to analyze it in terms of the parts working together, from the bottom up, to protect the stability and continued functioning of the whole.

    (2) I disagree with your claim that subatomic particles in a state of constant flux cannot possibly be dedicated to the functioning of the whole they comprise. Why ever not? While they are part of a living system, they contribute to its functioning, by helping to bind together the molecules they comprise - e.g. DNA, RNA, proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Their intrinsic finality may be short-lived, but it is nonetheless real. They are doing a job, and they do it well. What's the problem?

    (To be continued)

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  132. Hi scbrownlhrm,

    Finally, you write:

    "What is the fundamental nature of the [neuronal] network, of the stacked-up-layers-of-unintentional-work? Well, you say physics is not the pattern, just the cascades which constitute the pattern, hence physics cannot measure the pattern. It’s the *pattern* of the network which is beyond 'nothing-but' physics.

    "Which of course cannot be true – otherwise you’d have no scientific means to say that there’s even a pattern in-play. But we *can* measure the pattern – and we use nanometers and weak nuclear forces and what-not to measure all the sodium pumps and the patterns of discharges and so on. John Searle’s silicon (brain) chip gets us there as well. *IF* physics could not measure the pattern *THEN* you’d have no way to build that alive-computer you mentioned earlier. Nor Searle his silicon chip. But you state that you *can* build that alive-computer. But you also say that your tools by which you build it (physics) cannot see what it is you’re building.

    "You can’t have it both ways."

    END

    There seems to be some confusion here. The notion of dedicated functionality which I use to analyze intrinsic finality (the hallmark of living things) isn't the same as the pattern of top-down causation I propose occurs when we make a free choice. The latter involves macro-level constraints on combinations of micro-level neuronal firings, which do not interfere with the quantum randomness of the micro-level processes. The non-randomness is detectable only at the macro-level, which is why a physicist, looking at the individual molecules in the brain, would never pick it up.

    You argue that "stacked-up-layers-of-unintentional-work" can never add up to intentional agency, but I'm not saying that they do. The intentionality is at need to show is that no brain process, macro or micro, can possibly be "about" anything. That's a controversial philosophical position, and it needs to be argued for.

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  133. Vincent Torley,

    Based on your last few comments, you seem to land here:

    You (...we...) can in principle using physics/science build the Living-Computer you mentioned, and, also, you (...we...) cannot in principle using physics/science build an Intentional-Computer.

    Is that correct?

    ReplyDelete


  134. Vincent Torley,

    The reason those questions matter is that you seem to assert [1] that the tools of physics cannot see the Network.

    But you also seem to say [2] we can use the tools of physics to build the Network.

    However:

    Given the first, we cannot build a Network that can see Networks.

    Given the second we can build a Network that can see Networks.

    Hence the question on building that Living-Computer? That Intentional-Computer?

    On the bench-top will physics/science in principle get us there?




    ReplyDelete


  135. Vincent Torley,

    Last two items:

    You use "about" to mean that there is at some (...distal perhaps..,) point in the cascade of particles a "tunnel" which once it is "entered" there is only one possible output and not two -- hence only one true "meaning". All the photon flux-es start a bit wide and then eventually the tunnel narrows enough to force, say, just one enantiomer where just a few firings/discharges earlier there were two possible "tunnels".

    Is that accurate?

    I ask b/c it has to do with building Networks and what sort of work is being done.

    Lastly:

    You have not established intrinsic finality for you have only by arbitration managed to isolate the the physics inside of the Living Blue Planet from the Ocean in which she swims and from which she receives all of her nutrients. Physics inside isn't causally isolated from physics outside. In fact, such a thing is impossible.

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  136. Hi scbrownlhrm,

    Thank you for your comments. You ask if I would endorse the following:

    "You (...we...) can in principle using physics/science build the Living-Computer you mentioned, and, also, you (...we...) cannot in principle using physics/science build an Intentional-Computer."

    I would say (and Feser would not disagree) that we can in principle build a living computer, using science. I'm not sure what you mean by an intentional computer: even the humblest living things possess a kind of intentionality, as their parts are about the whole they comprise. So in the broad sense of the word, we can build an intentional computer, using science. But if you mean "having intentions," then from a neutral monist standpoint, I see no reason in principle why such a computer could not be built. The ability of such a computer to formulate intentions would be a direct consequence of its top-down design, but the content of those intentions would not: two atom-for-atom duplicate computers might end up formulating contrary intentions.

    You also criticize me for apparently holding [1] that the tools of physics cannot see the Network, and [2] that we can use the tools of physics to build the Network. I'm not sure which Network you are talking about here. If you mean intrinsic finality, I would say that (i) the nested hierarchy of organization plus (ii) embedded functionality, which (taken together) characterize living things can be built from bottom to top, using the tools of physics. But having been built, the nested hierarchy itself can be recognized only at the macro-level. You need a higher-level science to recognize the pattern: not physics but biology. The same goes for embedded functionality.

    But if by "the Network" you mean the top-down causality found in intelligent moral agents, then a neutral monist would respond that while a human brain [in a human body] could (in principle) be built from the bottom up, it is nevertheless a "brute fact" that when it is configured in a certain way, top-down causation suddenly emerges. And once again, physics would not be an appropriate tool for detecting this kind of causation, but biology would.

    You ask:

    "You use 'about' to mean that there is at some (...distal perhaps..,) point in the cascade of particles - a 'tunnel' - which, once it is 'entered,' there is only one possible output and not two - hence only one true 'meaning'. All the photon fluxes start a bit wide and then eventually the tunnel narrows enough to force, say, just one enantiomer where just a few firings/discharges earlier there were two possible 'tunnels'."

    I'm not sure what you're getting at here. If you're talking about volition, then I suggest you have a look at this Webpage from McGill University. It's very accessible:

    http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/d/d_06/d_06_cr/d_06_cr_mou/d_06_cr_mou.html

    I would say that once a command issues form the frontal cortex and reaches area 6 of the motor cortex, the chain of command is quite determinate and there is only one possible output. But before signals reach the frontal cortex, multiple outputs (some conflicting with each other) are perfectly possible. A neutral monist would say that choices are made in the frontal cortex.

    As for meanings: if you're talking about propositional meanings (as opposed to the meaning of this or that word), these are the one thing that neutral monism can't really explain. Choices are not a problem for such an account, but propositions are. It seems absurd to say that propositions are encoded in the brain. Body movements, yes; propositional meanings, no. (To be continued)

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  137. Hi scbrownlhrm,

    By the way, the last sentence of my 9:05 AM post above should read: "The intentionality is partially manifested at the micro-level, in the way that the parts support the whole, and fully manifested at the macro-level, where top-down causation is apparent. What you need to show is that no brain process, macro or micro, can possibly be 'about' anything. That's a controversial philosophical position, and it needs to be argued for." I think I accidentally deleted a line or two using the backspace key. Sorry.

    I'll finish up her, and let you have the last word. Sorry if I sounded a little abrupt earlier. Cheers and all the best.

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  138. Vincent,

    "two atom-for-atom duplicate computers might end up formulating contrary intentions."

    Okay. So the input and content in the box are all identical. Force for force. Matter for matter. Cause for cause. Acted-upon for Acted-upon. Acts-upon for Acts-upon.

    Identical.

    Please explain how the output will be different. It's not obvious that radioactive decay is done intentionally -- that it wants to do so and so does so.

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  139. Vincent,

    "...I would say that once a command issues form the frontal cortex and reaches area 6 of the motor cortex, the chain of command is quite determinate and there is only one possible output..."

    Is that "only one output" where "only one meaning" or "about-ness" in fact "happens" in top-down-chains?

    ReplyDelete


  140. Vincent,

    I don't see that you've offered anything that escapes the following from Feser on Searle and Intentionality:

    Part 1 of 3:

    Quote:

    This sort of theory proposes that the meaning or intentional content of any particular mental state (a belief, desire, or whatever) derives from the role it plays within a system of mental states, all of which, as we’ve seen, seem logically interrelated in the manner briefly discussed in chapters 3 and 6, since to have any one mental state seems to require having a number of others along with it. The idea is that what gives the belief that Socrates is mortal the precise meaning it has is that it is entailed by other beliefs meaning that all men are mortal and that Socrates is a man, that together with a belief meaning that all mortals will eventually die it entails a belief meaning that Socrates will eventually die, and so on. If we think of beliefs, desires, and the like as a vast system of logically interconnected elements, the theory holds that each element in the system gets its meaning from having precisely the place in the system it has, by bearing exactly the logical and conceptual relations it bears to the other elements. (More precisely, it is the objects of beliefs, desires, and the like — sentences of Mentalese according to the CRTT, or, more generically and for those not necessarily committed to the CRTT, “mental representations” of some other, non-sentential sort — that bear meaning or intentional content. But for the sake of simplicity, we can ignore this qualification in what follows.)

    There seems to be a serious problem with the conceptual role approach, namely that even if it is granted that mental states have the specific meaning or content they do only because of their relations to other mental states, this wouldn’t explain how mental states have any meaning at all in the first place. That a particular belief either implies other beliefs or is implied by them presupposes that it has some meaning or other: nothing that was completely meaningless could imply (or be implied by) anything. The very having of logical and conceptual relations assumes the prior existence of meaning, so that no appeal to logical and conceptual connections can (fully) account for meaning. Moreover, if belief A gets its content from its relations to beliefs B and C, and these get their content from their relations to beliefs D, E, and F, we seem destined to be led either in a circle or to an infinite regress.

    See the next comment…..

    ReplyDelete
  141. Vincent,

    Part 2 of 3:

    Either way, no ultimate explanation of intentional content will have been given. To provide such an explanation thus inevitably requires an appeal to something outside the network, something which can impart meaning to the whole. John Searle, who endorses something like the conceptual role theory of meaning, acknowledges that logical and conceptual relations between mental states cannot be the whole story if circularity or infinite regress is to be avoided. He therefore postulates that the entire “Network” of intentional mental states (he capitalizes Network to signify its status as a technical term) rests on what he calls a “Background” of non-intentional capacities to interact with the world around us. We have, for example, such intentional mental states as the desire to have a beer and the belief that there is beer in the refrigerator, and these mental states do, in part, get the specific meaning they have via their relations to each other and to other mental states in the broader Network.

    But ultimately these mental states, and the Network as a whole, function only against a Background of capacities, such as the capacity to move about the world of physical objects, pick them up, manipulate them, and so on. This capacity is not to be identified with the belief that there is a real external world of physical objects; for if it were such an intentional mental state, then it would have to get its meaning from other mental states, and thus couldn’t serve as part of the Background that ends the regress of mental states. The capacity in question is rather something unconscious and without intentionality, a way of acting rather than a way of thinking. One acts as if one had the belief in question, though one in fact does not. While this capacity could in principle become a conscious, intentional mental state — one could come to have the explicit belief that there is a real world of external physical objects that I can manipulate and move about within — this would mean that this particular capacity has moved out of the Background and into the Network, and now rests on some other unconscious, non-Intentional Background capacity or way of acting.

    See the next comment…..

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  142. Vincent,

    Part 3 of 3:

    There is, in short, always some set of capacities or other that comprises the Background (even if it is not always the same set for different people, or even for the same person at different times), and these capacities serve to ground the Network of intentional mental states. There is much to be said for Searle’s hypothesis of the Background, but it seems that it cannot save the conceptual role theory, for to speak of a “non-intentional capacity for acting” is to speak ambiguously. Consider that when you act without the conscious belief that there is an external world of physical objects, but merely manifest a capacity to interact with the world of physical objects, your capacity isn’t non-intentional in the same sense that an electric fan’s capacity to interact with the world of physical objects is non-intentional. You behave “as if’ you had a conscious, intentional belief in a world of physical objects, but of course you don’t, because it typically never even occurs to you either to believe or doubt that there is such a world: you just interact with the world, period. The fan also behaves “as if” it believed there was a world of external physical objects (that it “wants” to cool down, say); but of course it doesn’t really have this belief (or any wants) at all. In the case of the fan, this is not because it just hasn’t occurred to the fan to think about whether there is such a world, for the fan isn’t capable of such thoughts; it is rather because, strictly speaking, the fan doesn’t really “act” or “behave” at all, as opposed to just making movements. And the reason we don’t regard it as acting or behaving in the same sense we do is precisely because it doesn’t have intentionality — it is a dumb, meaningless, hunk of steel and wires.

    We on the other hand don’t merely make physical movements: the waving of your hand when your friend enters the room isn’t just a meaningless movement, but an action, the action of greeting your friend. If it were just a meaningless movement — the result of a seizure, say — we wouldn’t count it as an action at all; it wouldn’t in that case be something you do, but rather something that happened to you. The fan, however, is capable of making nothing but meaningless movements. For something genuinely to behave or act as we do requires that it does have intentionality — action and behavior of the sort we exhibit are themselves manifestations of intentionality, and thus presuppose it. But in that case, an appeal to a “capacity for action” cannot provide the ultimate explanation of intentionality. We need to know why our capacities for action are different from the mere capacities for movement that a fan exhibits. Merely noting, à la Searle’s Background hypothesis, that our capacities are non-intentional ways of acting cannot help, for that they are genuinely ways of acting is precisely what needs to be explained. Indeed, since they are ways of acting, they cannot be literally non-intentional, for if they were, they would no more be true ways of acting than are the capacities of an electrical fan. A capacity for action is, as a matter of conceptual necessity, an intentional capacity. In fairness to Searle, it isn’t clear that he intends his hypothesis of the Background to serve as a complete explanation of intentionality. His aim may be just to draw out some implications of the fact that mental states are logically and conceptually related to one another in a Network. The point, though, is that his way of avoiding the circularity or regress that threaten any conceptual role theory cannot be appealed to in order to vindicate such a theory as a complete theory of meaning — and that it may even be incoherent, if Searle holds that the capacities and ways of acting that form the Background are literally devoid of intentionality.

    End quote. (...by E. Feser...)

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  143. Vincent,

    I pointed to that "one possible outcome" and asked if that is "where" the "about" happens.

    A better word would be is that "why" or "how" the chain of reactions narrows the tunnel to "one meaning" ... as in "about"?



    ReplyDelete
  144. David McPike,

    I understand what's being discussed here. I seem to be the only one willing to follow through with the ramifications. From my POV it is you folks who are "likely not amenable to rectification by rational argument." Nevertheless, maybe you and a few others do understand that my "diatribes", though usually serious propositions, are generally playful in nature. I doubt these issues are nearly as serious as some people tend to make them.

    "That there is something rightly called 'desire' isn't controversial, but how it relates, causally and logically, to function-concepts, such as addition, is obviously controversial."

    What do you suppose separates us from robots? I understand very well what Ross means in his paper. It reduces to one thing, and one thing only: We humans desire to be correct and a robot will never have that same desire. In reality, cutting all the fancy jargon, it's this desire that Ross pins his hopes on. This desire must be immaterial. It's the only way Ross makes sense. Yet he would look like a fool if he came out and said simply that. So he leads us on a wild goose chase through an indeterminate wasteland.


    Anonymous,

    "Just ask him how he thinks Ross begs the question. He doesn't just mean in one way. There's been a dizzying array of reasons over the years, each more stupid than the last. If Don is correct, Ross must hold some kind of record for the most ways to beg the question in one argument."

    This is false. But I have indeed explained Ross's question-begging using many different examples.

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  145. @Don Jindra:
    "What do you suppose separates us from robots? I understand very well what Ross means in his paper. It reduces to one thing, and one thing only: We humans desire to be correct and a robot will never have that same desire."

    So you claim that a desire to be correct is the only thing that distinguishes us from robots? Abstractly speaking, you could be right. But if you were sane and cared to present yourself as such, you'd recognize that that claim would be accepted as even a tiny bit plausible by almost no one other than yourself, and so you'd recognize the necessity of taking the trouble to explain your view and to address some of the obvious objections to it. (That's if.)

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  146. David McPike,

    My February 1, 6:57 AM comments were about the true, buried meaning of Ross's argument. They were not necessarily my opinion on the difference between robots and humans.

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  147. Hi scbrownlhrm,

    Just a quick point of clarification. The examples Ed gives in the quote above - namely, waving one's hand in a greeting and drinking beer - are not unique to human beings. Chimpanzees also greet one another, wave their arms and (when given the opportunity) drink beer:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2167692/Chimp-turns-chain-smoking-beer-swilling-chump-zoo.html

    Since I know you don't believe chimps have an immaterial soul, it follows that you must believe that their bodily actions are capable of exhibiting genuine intentionality. Exactly how a bodily movement can possess such a property is a secondary question; we already know that some movements do. Ed's critique of Searle makes some telling points, but a neutral monist is not committed to following Searle. For my part, I'm also happy to ascribe intentionality to higher-level brain activities (in a chimp's brain or a human brain) which initiate these voluntary bodily movements. It is their causal role that gives them their "aboutness." And should it be objected that causality would apply equally to wayward causal chains, I would answer that a causal loop in the brain for initiating motor activities is not the same as a freak concatenation of events triggering a bodily movement. That's all I wanted to say.

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  148. @Don Jindra
    "My February 1, 6:57 AM comments were about the true, buried meaning of Ross's argument. They were not necessarily my opinion on the difference between robots and humans."

    Fair enough. But again: if you were sane and cared to present yourself as such, you'd recognize that that claim would be accepted as even a tiny bit plausible by almost no one other than yourself, and so you'd recognize the necessity of taking the trouble to explain your view and to address some of the obvious objections to it.

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  149. Vincent,

    Just two thoughts.

    First:

    See http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/08/animals-are-conscious-in-other-news-sky.html for animals and consciousness. Here again you come to your claim that you've established internal finality. But you have done so only by denying physics, and, have managed thereby to isolate the physics inside of the Neuron from the physics inside of the Living Blue Planet from the physics of the Ocean/Cosmos in which she swims and from which she receives all of her nutrients. Physics inside isn't causally isolated from physics outside. In fact, such a thing is impossible. If there is internal finality in X, you will need to follow through to the Ocean in which X swims. Anything less seems to sum to an X in want of all the facts.

    Second:

    The closed loop you described cannot have internal finality. Well, that is *IF* the Ocean (....which built it and which provides it all of its nano-second by nano-second nutrients...) has anything to say about it.

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  150. Clarification:

    By "nutrients" I mean causal and otherwise. The whole of it.

    That "....seamless continuum of particle (or whatever) in motion...."

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  151. Segue of sorts: http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/sean-carroll-and-the-afterlife/

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  152. Well, it is a series of sorts, with the index here:

    http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/fundamental-reality-index/

    It opens with this:

    “Here is an index for my now complete series on the metaphysical question of what is the most fundamental aspect of reality, giving my own take on the Cosmological Argument, the Argument from Consciousness, and the Argument from Ethics.”

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  153. Since there's been talk of “algorithms” there is this excerpt from http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/09/manzi-on-wright-coyne-dispute.html

    Quote:

    ".....Manzi is clearer on the issue of final causality. Coyne seems to think that to attribute purposiveness to evolution entails seeing the human species, specifically, as having somehow been the end result toward which natural selection was working; and he trots out the usual ad hominem response to critics of Darwinism to the effect that they just can’t handle evolution’s humbling implications, blah blah blah. But as Manzi notes, this completely misses the point. Let the human race be as cosmically insignificant as you like; neither our existence nor that of any other particular species is at all relevant to the question of evolution’s “purposiveness.” The point is rather that Darwinism claims to identify an “algorithm” by means of which natural processes generate new species. And if this “algorithm” talk is taken seriously, then (to put things more strongly than Manzi does) it necessarily entails, given the nature of algorithms, that there is an end-state towards which the processes in question point – not, to be sure, the generation of some particular species (human or otherwise) at some temporal culmination point, but rather the (in principle non-stop) generation of species after species meeting certain abstract criteria of fitness. (It is an error to think that the existence of final causes in biology would entail some sort of “omega point” a la Teilhard de Chardin. Aristotle, after all, believed that the motion of the heavenly spheres was both teleological – since the spheres were in his view moved by their “desire” to emulate the Unmoved Mover – and also endless. His physics and astronomy were mistaken, but that does not affect the philosophical point about the nature of teleology. Even if evolution proceeds forever, that would not make it non-teleological.)...."

    End quote.

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