Thursday, August 20, 2020

The particle collection that fancied itself a physicist

I haven’t done a “Physicists say the darndest things” post in a while.  People usually ask me to write one up every time a Lawrence Krauss, Sean Carroll, or Stephen Hawking (well, lately not Hawking) publishes a new “gee whiz” pop philosophy book masquerading as a pop science book.  I find the genre extremely boring.  It’s always the same dreary, sophomoric PBS-level stuff: We’re all just heaps of particles, but golly this really increases rather than decreases the wonder of it all, and here’s some half-baked amateur metaphysics and life lessons that even hardcore materialist philosophers would regard as fallacious and banal.  The only variable is whether the crap philosophy in these $30 time wasters is coupled with clueless arrogance (cough, Krauss) or at least presented with some humility. 

In Brian Greene’s case we have someone who seems a pleasant enough fellow.  But his new book Until the End of Time nevertheless exhibits the usual foibles of the genre.  I’ll focus here on what he says about the place of the human mind in the physical universe (the topic of chapter 5).  The basic metaphysical assumption is a crude reductionism: All that really exists, we are assured, are basic particles governed by mathematical laws.  Hence consciousness, free will, etc. must somehow either be reduced without remainder to these, or eliminated from our picture of reality.  The problem Greene wants to solve in the chapter is to explain how this program can most plausibly be carried out.

Physics ain’t all that

There are three main difficulties with Greene’s solution to the problem.  First, the solution is a non-starter, because second, he doesn’t understand the problem in the first place.  But third, it doesn’t matter, because the reductionistic assumption that creates the problem isn’t true anyway.

Let’s start with that last point.  Greene insists that the “evidence” supports his basic reductionist assumption.  In fact, the “evidence” does no such thing, and the assumption is false.  Greene himself inadvertently hints at the reason why.  For one thing, he writes:

The art of science, of which Newton was the master, lies in making judicious simplifications that render problems tractable while retaining enough of their essence to ensure that the conclusions drawn are relevant.  The challenge is that simplifications effective for one class of problems can be less so for others.  Model the planets as solid balls and you can work out their trajectories with ease and precision.  Model your head as a solid ball and the insights into the nature of mind will be less enlightening.  But to jettison unproductive approximations and lay bare the inner workings of a system containing as many particles as the brain – a laudable goal – would require mastering a level of complexity fantastically beyond the reach of today's most sophisticated mathematical and computational methods. (p. 117)

Very true.  The problem, though, is that Greene seems to think that if we did have a complete mathematical description of the particles that make up a brain, then we would have captured all there is to the brain.  What he fails to see is that such a description would itself be just as much a simplifying abstraction as modeling your head as a solid ball would be.  True, it would be a model that captures much more of the mathematical structure of the brain, but the point is that it would still be capturing only mathematical structure and nothing else. 

But is there anything more to matter than its mathematical structure?  Of course there is, because there is no such thing as mathematical structure without some concrete reality that has the structure.  Mathematical structure by itself is a mere abstraction from concrete reality.  A description of the brain in terms of nothing more than particles governed by mathematical laws, no matter how complex this description, can no more give you a complete description of the brain than spherical geometry can give you a complete description of a planet or a basketball.  And Greene himself inadvertently admits this too.  He writes:

I don’t know what mass is.  I don't know what electric charge is.  What I do know is that mass produces and responds to a gravitational force, and electric charge produces and responds to an electromagnetic force.  So while I can’t tell you what these features of particles are, I can tell you what these features do… For gravitational and electromagnetic influences, any concern that substituting action and response for an intrinsic definition amounts to an intellectual sleight of hand is, for most researchers, alleviated by the spectacularly accurate predictions we can extract from our mathematical theories of these two forces. (p. 133)

What Greene is acknowledging here is that the methods of physics don’t capture the intrinsic nature of phenomena, but only those relations between phenomena susceptible of mathematically precise description.  Hence physics simply doesn’t tell us everything there is to know even about the material world (let alone anything beyond the material world).  As I have noted many times, this is a point that used to be often commented upon by scientists and philosophers (Poincaré, Duhem, Russell, Eddington, et al.) and has in recent years been getting renewed attention in academic philosophy. 

What Greene doesn’t see is that the point completely undermines his basic reductionist assumption.  Why should we assume that what is real must be reducible to physics’ mathematical description of basic particles, if we already know that that description doesn’t capture every aspect of reality in the first place?

Greene also acknowledges that we need what he calls “nested stories” about different “layers of reality” – not just the story about what is going on at the level of fundamental particles governed by mathematical laws, but also “higher-level accounts” couched in language about learning, creativity, thinking, deliberating, and other concepts that have no applicability at the level of laws and particles (pp. 154-55).  Readers of Daniel Dennett will recognize in this a warmed over variation on his theory of the different “stances” we might take toward phenomena (namely the physical stance, the design stance, and the intentional stance).

All the same, Greene insists on giving the lower-level story about particles and laws a privileged status, and treating any part of a higher-level story that cannot be reformulated in lower-level terms as merely a useful fiction.  But why should we agree with that?  For one thing, the thesis that the higher-level stories are just convenient fictions faces the same problem that all versions of anti-realism do, namely that it is hard to see how these “stories” could work so well, and indeed be as practically indispensable as they are, if they weren’t true.  (This is known as a “no miracles” argument in the philosophy of science literature.)

For another thing, why should we not turn the tables and hold instead that it is the higher-level story that tells us the truth about the world, whereas the lower-level story is merely a simplifying abstraction that is useful for certain purposes (such as technological ones) but that leaves out much of concrete reality and thus is not strictly true?  This is essentially the view taken by anti-reductionist philosophers of science like Nancy Cartwright.

Greene claims that the “evidence” provided by the successful predictions made using the laws of physics supports his reductionist position, but it does nothing of the kind.  After all, as Greene himself happily acknowledges, there are no laws that allow us rigorously to predict the behavior of systems conceived of as dogs, cats, basketballs, dollar bills, human beings, etc.  We have to abstract out all that is distinctive of these things qua biological, cultural, economic, etc. phenomena and describe them instead in the simplifying terms of physics, and then we will get rigorous predictions (though only of those aspects of their behavior that are reflected in the simplifying description). 

So, all that Greene is entitled to say is that mathematically precise laws accurately describe the behavior of systems modeled at a high enough level of abstraction to be characterizable in terms of mathematically precise laws.  Which, though not entirely unimpressive (since it could have turned out that the laws failed no matter how abstractly we modeled the phenomena) is still not nearly as impressive as Greene needs it to be.  In particular, it hardly shows that there is no more to physical reality than is captured by the laws and abstract models.

Greene’s fallacy is like that of someone who says that, since a map is enormously useful for getting around a certain bit of terrain, predicting what you’ll see when you reach this or that part of it, etc., it follows that there is nothing more to the terrain that what is captured by the map.  As Alfred Korzybski once said, “the map is not the territory.”  If only more physicists were capable of seeing what a crackpot linguist could!

Anyway, whether you agree with me or with Greene, here’s the thing: The dispute is not a scientific one but a philosophical one.  As I have argued at length in Aristotle’s Revenge and elsewhere, the compelling arguments are all on the anti-reductionist side.  But even if we anti-reductionists were wrong about that, Greene has said nothing to show that we are.  Greene thinks he has solidly established a metaphysical result by drawing it out of physics, but all he has actually done is to read a dubious and unsupported metaphysical claim into physics. 

Physics cannot solve the problem, because it creates the problem

Let’s move on to the second difficulty, which is that Greene does not understand the problem he is trying to solve.  To be fair, he does at least see that there is a problem facing anyone who wants to insist on the kind of reductionism he favors while also affirming the reality of conscious experience.  He appeals to arguments like Thomas Nagel’s “bat argument” and Frank Jackson’s “knowledge argument” to illustrate the problem, and he realizes that they can’t be waved away after the fashion of the village Reddit materialist. 

All the same, he fails to see the depth of the problem, and in particular fails to see that the methods of physics are precisely what generate the problem in the first place, so that it is clueless to think (as Greene does) that the problem can be resolved by further application of those methods.  Moreover, some of the writers Greene cites make this point themselves.

Here’s the basic idea.  The founders of modern physics put at the center of the scientific conception of the world the idea that matter should be characterized in terms of quantifiable primary qualities alone – size, shape, motion, position, etc.  Irreducibly qualitative features like color, sound, heat, cold, and the like were to be treated as secondary qualities, reflecting the way we experience the world, but not how the world really is in itself.  To be more precise, for purposes of physics, colors were to be redefined in terms of surface reflectance properties, sounds in terms of compression waves, temperature in terms of molecular motion, etc.  Hence, if by “red” we mean such-and-such a reflectance property, then we can say that a certain apple is red; but if instead we mean by “red” the way red looks to everyday experience, then that exists only in the conscious observer, and not in the apple itself.  If by “heat” we mean such-and-such a pattern of molecular motion, then we can say that the water in a certain bathtub is hot; but if instead we mean by “heat” the way heat feels in everyday experience, then that too exists only in the consciousness of the observer.  And so on for other secondary qualities (as Greene himself recounts at p. 139).

Though the details of the story have changed over the centuries, what has persisted to the present day is a tendency to treat so-called secondary qualities as merely the qualia of our conscious experience of the material world, rather than anything to be found in the material world itself.  They are simply not the kind of thing that can be captured by the purely quantitative, mathematical language to which physics confines its description of matter.  And the problem is that this conception of matter entails a kind of dualism.  For if these qualities do not exist in the material world, then they must not exist in the brain, which is part of the material world.  Yet if they do exist in the mind, then the mind must not be identical with the brain or with any other part of the material world.

Like so many other superficial materialists, Greene thinks the problem merely has to do with its being intuitively difficult to see how conscious experiences could be material.  No, the problem is much deeper than that – it is that modern physics essentially defines the physical world in a way that entails that consciousness is non-physical.   The problem has less to do with consciousness than with matter as physics conceives of it.

Descartes and his followers saw this implication, and that (rather than intuition, religious prejudice, or some other anticlimactic rationale) is why they judged consciousness to be immaterial.  Indeed, the basic problem was recognized by the ancient atomist Democritus, who is, ironically, quoted by Greene himself.  In particular, Greene cites the Intellect’s side in an exchange Democritus imagined the Intellect having with the Senses:

Intellect: Color is by convention, sweet by convention, bitter by convention; in truth there are but atoms and the void.

What Greene does not quote is the retort that Democritus put into the mouth of the Senses:

Senses: Wretched mind, from us you are taking the evidence by which you would overthrow us?  Your victory is your own fall.

Democritus’s point is that if the atomist says both that atoms are all that exist and that color, sweetness, etc. and the other qualities of conscious experience are not to be found in the atoms, then we have a paradox.  For conscious experience is what provides the empirical evidence on which the atomist account is itself based!  The atomist thus seems unable to fit the very evidence his theory relies on into the picture of the world the theory describes.  Democritus was intellectually honest enough to take note of this problem, though we don’t know how he tried to resolve it, if he did.

Erwin Schrödinger noted that the same problem afflicts modern physics, which takes for granted a conception of matter that is in the relevant respect like that of the ancient atomists (though of course in other respects it is very different).  And Nagel’s argument in “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” makes the same point.  The way Nagel puts it is that since physics works with a conception of matter as essentially objective (in the sense of being independent of any particular observer’s point of view), it cannot incorporate into its picture of reality the subjectivity of conscious experience (which is precisely tied to the point of view of the observer).

For this reason, Nagel and other contemporary philosophers of mind like David Chalmers have argued that consciousness cannot be explained in physical terms unless physics revises its conception of matter.  Greene considers Chalmers’ version of this idea, but replies that there is no “convincing evidence” for such a thesis (p. 135).  But the reason he doesn’t see the evidence is, as Orwell would say, because it’s right in front of his nose.  It is there in physics’ own conception of matter, which excludes consciousness from the material world precisely by allowing into that world only what can be described in the language of mathematics.

Nobody in here but us particles

Greene is keen on saying that we are all just “collections of particles,” and goes on at length about how he is himself just a collection of particles (pp. 156-57).  That we seem to be more than that is, he suggests, just an illusion.  Here again he borrows from Dennett, by way of neuroscientist Michael Graziano.  Just as, according to the primary/secondary quality story, we project onto external reality properties that aren’t really there (such as the red of a Ferrari, in Greene’s example), so too do we project onto the internal world of the brain a stream of conscious thoughts and experiences that aren’t really there.  Greene writes:

You continuously create a schematic mental representation of your own state of mind.  If you are looking at the red Ferrari, not only do you create a schematic representation of the car, you also create a schematic representation of your Ferrari-focused attention.  All the features you bind together to represent the Ferrari are augmented by an additional quality summarizing your own mental focus…

[This] is the heart of why conscious experience seems to float unmoored in the mind.  When the brain's penchant for simplified schematic representations is applied to itself, to its own attention, the resulting description ignores the very physical processes responsible for that attention.  That is why thoughts and sensations seem ethereal, as if they come from nowhere, as if they hover in our heads. (pp. 140-1)

Now, I certainly understand the attractions of this “higher-order representation” sort of view.  I once defended a version of it myself, in my doctoral dissertation during my naturalist days.  But it’s hopeless.  Here are some of the problems with it.

First, it just keeps kicking the problem back a stage, ad infinitum.  Again, the view starts with the primary/secondary quality thesis that redness, heat, etc. as common sense understands such qualities don’t exist in the external material world but only in our representations of it, as the qualia of conscious experience.  This opens up the problem that if these qualities don’t exist in external material things like the Ferrari, then they can’t exist in the brain either, since it too is material.  Greene’s answer to this problem is to say: “OK, then not only do they not exist in the Ferrari, but they don’t exist in the brain’s representation of the Ferrari; instead they exist in the brain’s higher-order representation of the brain’s representation of the Ferrari!”  And of course, that just moves the pea under another shell, because higher-order representations in the brain are just as material as first-order representations in the brain.  And if Greene deals with this problem by appealing to some third-order representation, then the problem will just pop up again there, like the proverbial whack-a-mole (if I can introduce yet another analogy).

Second, it’s actually worse than that, because the notion of “representation” is itself a mental notion which, like consciousness, cannot be assimilated to the conception of matter physics has inherited from the early moderns.  On that conception, matter is just colorless, odorless, soundless, tasteless, and meaningless particles in motion.  Matter on its own does not stand for, point to, refer to, or represent anything; it lacks intentionality or “directedness toward” any object beyond itself (to put the point using the standard technical philosophical jargon).  The early moderns’ conception of matter took intentionality no less than qualia to exist only in the mind’s awareness of the physical world and not in the physical world itself – which, again, is why they took the modern conception of matter to entail the immateriality of the mind.

So, if Greene is beholden to this conception of matter, he owes us an explanation of how intentionality or representational content can arise in a material world thus understood.  But his “explanation” essentially amounts to saying: “Representation arises in a world that doesn’t already include it once the brain starts representing itself as the sort of thing that has representations in it.”  That’s like Feynman’s example of the painter who claimed he could make yellow paint by mixing only red and white paint, as long as he also added some yellow paint to the mix somewhere along the way.  The painter can make yellow paint where it doesn’t yet exist – but only if there’s already some yellow paint lying around.  And the brain on Greene’s account can make mental representations where they don’t already exist – but only if there are some mental representations lying around.  If you don’t see the fallacy here, then you might be qualified to write a pop science bestseller.

Third, Greene’s position entails a self-defeating skepticism.  Not only do we have no genuine access to the external world – but only to our inner representations of it – it turns out we don’t really have access even to those inner representations of the external world either, but only to representations of them.  And in fact (if we follow this out consistently), we don’t have access even to those, but only to yet higher-order representations ad infinitum.  So how do we know that anything is real, including Greene’s own account of what is really going on? 

Even professional philosophers like Dennett who peddle these sorts of views are unable to solve the problems facing them.  Poor Greene isn’t even aware that the problems exist.  And yet, though less obnoxious than a blowhard like Krauss, he is no less confident in his absurd conclusions. 

It can be charming when a child pretends that he is a cloud, or a boulder, or a lion, or even – I suppose – a collection of particles.  It’s considerably less charming when a grown man does it, and when he is a grown man with a Ph.D. and a tenured position at Columbia, it’s downright embarrassing.  But you need only turn on the news to see that otherwise intelligent people believing ever more ridiculous things on the basis of ever more convoluted sophistries is the story of our age.  There is a crucial but widely overlooked lesson here.  When your basic assumptions are unsound, greater intelligence by no means guarantees that you will come to see this.  On the contrary, sometimes you will end up only more hardened in error than a less intelligent person would be, because you will be able to come up with subtler fallacies and cleverer self-deceptions.

Related posts:

Greene on Nozick on nothing

Why are (some) physicists so bad at philosophy?

Not understanding nothing

A gigantic book royalty check from nothing

Scientists should tell Lawrence Krauss to shut up already

Carroll on laws and causation

Mad scientists

301 comments:

  1. It sounds like he's essentially recapitulated Carroll's 'poetic naturalism' except Greene seems to describe the relationship as 'nested'. The gist seems to be no different.

    I'm interested to see when these physicists start accepting panpsychism. As you've pointed out, they can keep their conception of matter and starting handing out consciousness all over the place to avoid these problems. Apparently Dennet is not so closed to panpsychism recently.

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    1. Callum,

      " they can keep their conception of matter and starting handing out consciousness all over the place to avoid these problems."

      Russell's Neutral Monism is exactly that.

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    2. Callum, what do you mean by your last sentence?

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    3. I was listening to a podcast a year ago or so and apparently a panpsychist philosopher can spent some time with him and had persuaded him of its plausibility (or at least some aspect of it plausibility).

      I'm not saying DD is a closet panpsychist!

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    4. How would they solve the combination problem? (How do multiple conscious or "proto-conscious" atoms combine into one single, unified conscious experience)

      Also, I don't even see the appeal of panpsychism in the first place. The connection between mind and matter would still not be explained. Since consciousness is not reducible to what the atoms are, or their mechanical properties, we're just trading off explaining why qualitative experiences are connected to matter in us to explaining how qualitative experiences would be connected to matter in atoms.

      Though it is progress over reductionism and eliminativism, however. So we should enjoy this latest trend a bit.

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    5. Atno, as you know, the next move for the materialist is to appeal to complexity and the claim that someday physics will explain it all-which is just ignoring the arguments against materialism. It's like insisting that alchemy will work if we just try more combinations.

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    6. TN

      "the claim that someday physics will explain it all"

      I know this is a fallacy, but I can't for the life of me remember what it's called.

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    7. I believe it's what Popper called "Promissory Materialism."

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    8. PP only gives you the mental aspects by adding it onto everything. However, leaving out the question why the mental and the physical are linked in every existing item, or, to formulate it on Russells monism, why the fundamentals are compatible with either, PP still requires substantial form, for it is no progress in solving the problem of unity or the contingent relationship between mental and physical given semantic underdeterminism of said physicals.

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    9. Darth and Ryan,

      If you want to call it scientism or promissory materialism, fine by me. I call it the molecule of the gaps.

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  2. Also;

    "Now, I certainly understand the attractions of this “higher-order representation” sort of view.  I once defended a version of it myself, in my doctoral dissertation during my naturalist days.  But it’s hopeless.  Here are some of the problems with it."

    For some reason made me laugh. Its as though you're putting your hand on his shoulder - "*trust me* its a dead end"

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  3. Regarding matter though - why exactly does God lack matter if proportional causality requires that the effect be present in the cause in some way?

    Because though it's possible to say that matter is a limitation of form and so isn't a positive reality absolutely speaking, it seems quantitative form and extension ARE positive realities. Physical bodies and matter don't seem like limitations, but positive features that things have.

    And if one includes essence and even haecceity in the mix, it seems being material is part of the essence and form of material things - so materiality can't be purely negative since the essences of certain things include it.

    So why exactly is God immaterial, and/or why are higher things less material?

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    1. I imagine it may have something to do with the relationship between particulars and universals

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    2. Physical extension is a positive reality, but it is still a limitation of reality. Remember that God is Pure Act, not the set of all combinations of act and potency (contra-pantheism).

      Similarly, God lacks angelic intellects even though He is the cause of them. God does not need a limitation to cause a substance with a limitation, He just needs to cause something to have one limited aspect of God’s being.

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    3. @Scott,

      But how does this relate to proportional causality? Is quantity and extension an aspect of God? Or if not, how are they (effect) still present in the cause (God)?

      And if matter is a real form of actuality, then this still doesn't completely answer why pure act - or angels for that matter - aren't material. Shouldn't more actuality entail more materiality in that case?

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    4. I would say that God has whatever actuality that extension and quality have in an unlimited and undivided way.

      Perhaps this is an okay (albeit limited analogy). Imagine that there is a Geometry God, and the universe is a universe of two-dimensional objects like Flatland. Now the substances in this universe are simple shapes such as circles and squares, etc. Matter would be the perimeter of these objects, and form would be the area within them (the extended-ness). The matter could be actualized by other form/matter composite substances (shapes) by an action like a square bumping into and squishing a circle. Now God would be something like infinite and indivisible two-dimensional geometric extension itself. When God creates a circle, he is creating the form (area within the circle) ex nihilo by a proportionate power that he, being infinite and indivisible extension, has (not out of his substance though, since that would entail panentheism). Now matter simply arises insofar as that particular form is created in a limited way and thus has boundaries. If what you are trying to produce is area (actuality/form), then you need area (actuality/form) to produce it. Having a perimeter (potentiality/matter) cannot contribute are all because it is the principle of limitation. So Hod does not need matter at all to produce matter (since it automatically arises from the creation of a limited form). Now matter does not arise in angels because they are relatively infinite, but they are not the absolute infinity of God.

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    5. Remember the effect can be in the cause formally, virtually or eminently

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    6. @Scott,


      With regards to God not creating out of His substance - does this mean that the being and form of created beings isn't taken from God akin to a cup taking water from the ocean, where the water in the cup is ocean water but just taken from the ocean and distinct from it?

      That is, the being of creatures isn't like an amount of ocean water taken from an infinite ocean (and so not diminishing the ocean)?

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    7. Correct. Because that would imply division within God and violate divine simplicity. God is not the matter of other substances. We are not little chunks of God, even an infinite God. But God, by his infinite power, creates something out of nothing by giving that something both an essence and an existence at the same time.

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    8. @Scott,


      @Scott,

      Agreed. Someone described the relationship of our finite act of being to God's infinite being like that because we are participations.

      And while this analogy may have some properties that are relevant for participation, it would be false to say that our being is from God like that - even if ocean water in the cup is different from the original ocean water, it is still ocean water "genetically."

      So our being isn't "genetically" from God.

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    9. Extension is still purely negative since it is a limitation of a being and its powers to what we call its "extension" in space and time. God has no such limited, or if you will, his extension would be infinite as he is present everywhere.

      The medieval analogy of the infinite ocean of being is very useful for showing how we are but limitations of Being; we have our forms because we are like different glasses limiting the water of Being that God gives us. Though like all analogies, it shouldn't be taken too literally. One need not believe that God literally gives out His own being.

      Or maybe one can. I like creatio ex Deo, and I think it might fit with ex nihilo. Perhaps St Paul was being quite literal when he said that in God we move and live and have our being. A certain qualified panentheism isn't so different from theism, at the end of the day.

      Though I still think classical ex nihilo is the best model - seems to make more sense of God's changelessness.

      In any case, extension and other physical properties are basically limitations that could be reduced to power/being. Material entities are just very limited being/power.

      If there were any basic, positive reality in them, God would have it as well, eminently.

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    10. @Atno,


      But extension and quantity don't seem to be limitations when considering their intelligibility - unlike prime matter which we easily grasp isn't actually a positive reality on its own, extension and quantity seem like positive properties.

      For example, quantity itself can be considered as an abstract form and numbers as ideas that are abstract particular quantities (though this might depend on your position on the nature of numbers - Thomists would say numbers are mental beings while more platonic classical theists like Augustinians would say they exist in the mind of God), and physical extension is something evident to the senses and experience as if it were an actual thing and property, and is intelligible in itself.

      So it seems in some way that extension and quantity aren't pure limitation like prime matter is, but types of actuality.

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    11. I don't follow you at all. Something being intelligible doesn't make it positive. What matters is what extension is qua being. Extension is a form of limitation; a being that is extended is a being that can be present only at a specific location or profile. How is that not a limitation? How is that positive? The extension of my body means that its powers and operations are so little unified that they extend and are limited to this "location". I cannot be where you are or affect you there (with my body). An angel can.

      Extension is a form of limitation. Spatiality is limitation. Enclosedness. So is temporality.

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    12. @Atno,


      I guess it depends on how you view extension, or what you view of it. If you view extension as BEING present at a location - this would be a positive thing. Extension in that sense just is being present at a location, and what limits you to that location would be the finitude of your matter and extension in that case.

      Something similar would apply to quantity, which might also be more positive than extension as it seems to be a form.

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    13. No. BEING is of course positive, but extension is literally the limitation of being. Material beings are positive insofar as they are beings, and negative insofar as they are material. To be limited to a specific location, delimitated, enclosed, is negative. It is not a perfection. God is present at every location as well, through his power, but he is not enclosed, he is not extended.

      Extension is inherently negative; it refers to beings that have their act of existence limited and enclosed to a specific space, whereas the unextended has an act of existence that is not limited to any space.

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    14. @Atno,

      I guess you could say extension is limiting insofar as it denotes a limitation of presence in a certain location, but is positive insofar as it denotes a positive presence at all, even though it is a finite presence confined at a certain location.

      So the positive aspect of being at a certain location - being present at all, even if it is to a finite degree - is extension to a finite degree, while God and angels are even more extended insofar as their presence is greater and not confined or limited.

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    15. I still don't see extension as per se limitation. Take a point: it has location, but it has no extension. It has (very limited) being in regards to its location. Now compare it to a line through that point: it has extension, and it has place as well. It's place includes the place of the point, but has more besides. Its extendedness does not mean it is MORE limited than the point, quite the opposite - the point is more limited than the line. The line's extendedness is "being" in excess of the being of the point. Similarly, a plane's extendedness is being in excess of the being of a line on the plane, and a solid figure is being in excess of the being of the surface. If we were (a la Newton) to imagine for a moment that "all space", that fictitious infinite, unchanging quasi-body of Newton's imagination, we would say it has infinite extension in all 3 dimensions, and thus "has" all place there is to have. It's extendedness is not, per se, limitation.

      Now, let's look at specific figures: a line segment has two endpoints that limit the length - that line has limits. The limits, though, are not extendedness as such, though, they are distinct from the extendedness of the line: the boundary points have no length themselves, they do not "add to" the extent of the line. So we cannot call the line segment "limited" in virtue of its being extended. The same sort of thing can be said of a surface figure (say, a square) bounded by 4 line segments: its extent (in 2 dimensions) is bounded by things of lower dimension, lines, but its extent is not EXTENDED in virtue of those boundaries. The boundaries are not what cause its extendedness, but its finiteness. Same with a 3-dimensional figure.

      Next, let's consider actual substances that HAVE these attributes - lines and surfaces that bound them. A ball has extend, and its extent is bounded by its surface, but the surface boundary is not that in virtue of which it's extent is extended, it is that in virtue of which its extent is not infinite.

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    16. Now, if we compare extended being to non-extended being, taking both in their most generic sense, I don't see how we can call extendedness that which LIMITS the extended thing. An extended sphere is more, not less, than a point, and the point is a "not-extended thing". Considering other being that is not extended, we would not say "extent" makes the sphere less being than, e.g. justice. The fact that justice is not extended and the sphere is extended does not give justice more being than the sphere.

      Again, if we compare BEINGS which HAVE extendedness or not: humans have bodies which are extended, and angels do not. Humans' are extended in virtue of their bodies, which have extension. Angels have no bodies (at least, using the Dionsysius / Thomist view of them. Angels have more being than humans because their intellects are more powerful, and their intellects are more powerful on account of being made in a way that does not depend on body to operate, so indirectly angels are more on account of not being bodily. But GIVEN body, humans are not less in virtue of that body being extended - a human soul separated from its body in death is LESS, not more, in virtue of being separated from body. It is less in being because it is incomplete as a separated soul.

      Comparing a human to God (I know, you can't), God is transcendent in "being", in that he isn't "a being" to begin with, and humans are LIMITED in what we are each "a being", an essence with existence. But we share that with the angels, who have no extension. So it is not EXTENDEDNESS AS SUCH that separates us from "infinite being" as God. Further, in being the kind of thing whose form calls for body, we are even less than angels, but we have that lessening in virtue of our FORM, not our extendedness.

      Lastly, if extendedness as such were limitation, then MORE extent would imply MORE limitation. Which seems odd, to say the least.

      No, I think it is better to say extendedness is a mode of "being", and being is being. To be the SORT of thing that is extended implies also being a creature (an essence joined with existence) and also implies having a form of a sort of being beneath the angels, but this implies a lesser kind of being than the angelic being - it does not imply that the extent is itself what makes a human to be lesser.

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    17. "humans have bodies which are extended, and angels do not."
      Uhm, have you ever met an angel? Maybe just a phone call with an angel? What evidence do you have that angels are anything other than imaginary beings, just thoughts in your head?

      How could you possibly have the slightest clue as to the properties of angels?

      "being is being"
      What explanatory value does this tautological statement have?

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    18. @Tony,


      That is exactly what I was trying to say in my last few comments. So the questions then become:

      1) If extension in space is a positive trait and is a type of being, then why do the angels and God who lack extension have more being than something with extension?

      2) If physical extension, as well as quantity, are positive things, then how are they rooted in God? If angels and God don't have extension or quantity which are a positive form of being, then how can they be superior or even more actual than things which have extension and quantity?

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  4. It can be charming when a child pretends that he is a cloud, or a boulder, or a lion, or even – I suppose – a collection of particles. It’s considerably less charming when a grown man does it, and when he is a grown man with a Ph.D. and a tenured position at Columbia, it’s downright embarrassing.

    Savage.

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    1. Scott,

      Yeah, that's a classic right there!

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  5. Dr. Feser,

    Would you mind clarifying something? You say (here and in Aristotle’s Revenge) that color as common sense understands it is really in the apple. I imagine that you are not intending to suggest something like panpsychism is true, though, correct? Are you saying that there is a real qualitative feature that the apple possesses which has the active power to give rise to a conscious experience of redness in a properly disposed subject? So the redness really exists in the apple, but it does not exist as an actually conscious reality contra-panpsychism. Am I u see standing you correctly?

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    1. My two cents, for what it is worth.

      The apple can be described in terms of the four causes. Its final cause has a wide range of different possible results, one of which is "the active power to give rise to a conscious experience of redness in a properly disposed subject".

      I haven't done much research into panpsychism, except for what I've heard Ed say about it. I think he would say panpsychism is ad hoc or just plain nuts. At least final causality is grounded in the act/potency distinction. But I wonder, not knowing much about panpsychism myself, whether panpsychism could be given an Aristotelian defense.

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    2. @Scott,

      I think that just as the apple possesses redness in the same way it possesses location or physicality. What we see is actually there independent of our seeing - like triangularity independent of our intellect. Just because we also happen to have subjective awareness of it doesn't mean the properties are so tied up to it that they cease being objective.

      Again, just as we consciously experience the apple as such without this meaning the apple's existence is panpsychic, we also experience redness. Our conscious experience is experience of something, and that something is distinguished from our conscious experience of it.

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    3. @JoeD. I was leaning toward that line of thinking. Thank you for the suggestion.

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    4. https://www.bookforum.com/print/2604/the-unending-quest-to-explain-consciousness-23772

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    5. Yeah, Feser's idea is that the qualitative properties of redness and such are really in the objects as formal causes. This is pretty neat.

      But it doesn't really solve the hard problem of consciousness entirely, or naturalize consciousness or anything. We might locate redness in the objects, but another reason qualia are mysterious are their first-person properties. And the apple won't have those. The apple won't have an experience. We're still left to explain why and how we have an experience of formal qualities; as well as the seeming contingency of this experience compared to our other bodily functions, etc.

      I think the true picture of the mind lies somewhere between hylemorphism and cartesianism, to be fair. Like a qualified hylemorphism.

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    6. I would just say that some substances have first-person material powers and stuck to hylemorphism.

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    7. I personally am a big fan of the hylomorphism of William Jaworski, but I agree that it seems insufficient. However his ontology is the best availabe and he provides a convincing picture of the natural world in which material and mental aspects can be conjoined, without making an identity or unnecessary division. It still seems though that it doesn't grasp the full picture. So I'm gravitating between Jaworski, J.P. Moreland and E.J. Lowe. And it is the most comfortable place I can imagine in the philosophy of mind

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  6. On occasions when I need to communicate all the above to a typically brutish, arrogant materialist (which are, unfortunately, in long supply), I just ask them how they can say their opponents are “wrong”? If their opponents are merely vibrating particles, how can vibrating particles be “wrong”? Particles just happen to zig or zag as they might. What standard says zigging is right and zagging is wrong?

    They could, if they were aware enough, claim that all that is really happening is a quest for power. But in making that claim they have to be able to say that the particles in their brain can ascertain an abstract, objective fact of the matter, which creates the same problem again.

    Usually, they don’t even understand or take time to understand; they just keep yelling.

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  7. If we aren't just a pile of atoms then how did Dr. Manhattan reassemble himself big, blue, and nude, Dr. Feser?

    Cheeeeeck and mate!

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  8. " We’re all just heaps of particles, but golly this really increases rather than decreases the wonder of it all ..."

    LOL. Yeah. They never stop with the inadvertent comedy. I wonder if there is a good and amusing reductionist explanation to account for why weak males are so attracted to making such statements.

    Carl Sagan's body lies a moldering in his grave ... but his memes go marching on.

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  9. OP
    " A description of the brain in terms of nothing more than particles governed by mathematical laws, no matter how complex this description, can no more give you a complete description of the brain than spherical geometry can give you a complete description of a planet or a basketball."
    Preposterous.

    Dr. Feser, you just said "no matter how complex this description", which you then equate with "spherical geometry can give you a complete description of a planet".

    Your position is self-contradictory, hence, incoherent.

    A planet is not sphere, obviously. But a model of unbounded complexity, accuracy, and completeness would describe a planet precisely. So you have contradicted yourself in the analogy of the planet, hence your reference to the brain is unsupported.

    What else would the brain be described by other than a physics model of unbounded complexity, accuracy, and completeness?



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    1. "what else would the brain be described by..."

      And there we have it. Go away.

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    2. There you have what?

      How else do you suppose the brain works other than by finite physical processes?

      Are those processes at base infinitely complex such that even an arbitrarily large finite model could not describe them?

      Perhaps you think that at base there are an infinite number of sorts of material, such that there is no such thing as prime matter, or fundamental fields, or a bottom level, or anything of the sort?

      Or is it that you think that at base material progresses through time with discontinuous intrinsically random jumps, in which case the Principle of Sufficient Reason is false?

      Or maybe you think at base the brain is driven by magic, the soul, a ghost, immaterial, or some other gauzy notion of things just go poof?

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    3. You should stop caricaturing christians. We think the mind is made of fairy dust.

      The brain is a magical instrument that is fueled by unicorns in a per se fashion. The unicorns are neccessary but finite. Because merlin.

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    4. Yep, that's an accurate characterisation of their position.

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    5. This would be so much easier if I was allowed to mock Stardusty without mercy. You can't argue with him his mind is mush. Ye can only out troll him.

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    6. " You can't argue with him"
      ...might be on to something, Son.

      In that context the word "you" seems to be used generically, as in "one" or more precisely "I".

      More accurately stated "son of Ya'Kov can't argue with (me)".

      Manifestly that has been the case thus far. You either post no rational on topic content at all, as at 7:47 PM, or you post adolescent attacks on what you assert my sexual orientation to be, as though that would be some kind of insult, if you even had any such information available.

      The topic of this thread is actually kind of interesting. But, Dr. Feser's sphere analogy fails for the reasons I have cited above, your allusions to your preferred method of discourse, vapid insult, notwithstanding.

      Do you have some rational argument against reductionist materialism?

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    7. The persistence of identity even given the full replacement of all materials in a human body every ~7 years. Given that replacable parts are accidental and not essential and given that it is nonsensical to suggest that every time matter in our body gets replaced, the hunan person is replaced, we are let to conclude that humans are substantial forms and these forms cannot be identified merely with the conjunction of matter, but rather are separate, unifying entities. Hence, materialism is false.

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    8. Dominik,

      I agree, but I beleive (or at least it has been my experience) it is easier to convey the problem to the materialist via indeterminacy: any truth claim made by the materialist is merely saying that some chemical reaction happened instead of some other chemical reaction. Chemical reactions just exist, what standard tells the materialist that some chemical reaction is "wrong"?

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    9. Well, there are numerous ways of driving the point home. Materialism suffers from all sorts of anomalies.

      There's personal identity, as Dominik mentioned.

      There's the basic existence of a unified self/experiencer, while materialism/mereological nihilism would reduce us to bundles of disparate particles.

      There's consciousness, qualia.

      There's intentionality - the fact that our thoughts have content, they are about other things, they have thought-like final causes, while material things are just not about anything, or just have causal dispositions as final causes.

      There's the fact that our thoughts not only are about things, but are about semantically determinate propositions, as TN mentioned. We engage with determinate and universal concepts which are immaterial (material signs are semantically indeterminate, vague, and particular) .

      There's the fact that mental causation and reasoning are completely distinct from physical causation. To have a thought being caused by another one by virtue of propositional content in accordance with the laws of logic, with a thought "being seen" as a ground for a consequent. It is a sui generis ground and consequent relation guided by logical laws. Physical events by contrast are just cause and effect relations describably by contingent physical laws of properties.

      There's free will. Human action is just categorically different from that of billiard balls or even wasps.

      There's the immanent causation of living organisms vs the transient causation of rocks, atoms and the like.

      There's problems of value.

      Again, the issue is that materialism leads naturally to mereological nihilism. But once you try to analyze a person through mereological nihilism, all hell breaks loose.

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    10. Dominik
      “The persistence of identity even given the full replacement of all materials in a human body every ~7 years.”
      Indeed, each of us changes moment to moment. Over time cells die and are replaced. We take in materials and we expel materials. We learn, we forget.

      None of us is precisely the same person we were a second ago, yet we each perceive the persistence of our own identity.

      You have presented an assertion, that there exists for each of us a separate form, and that separate form is what is persistent and it is in that separate form that our sense of identity resides and persists.

      Your error is in concluding ad hoc that materialism cannot account for the persistence of identity, as well as your failure to provide any observation evidence for this separate form.

      The persistence of identity is easily accounted for on materialism. There is no single point of static self. Our sense of self is a dynamic distributed process in our neural networks of the brain. The self is a perceived locus of the physical whole, a perceived set of body parts, memories, and thoughts.

      If you are old enough to have, say, a new gray hair you still feel like you, although perhaps you realize that you have changed at least a small amount, but your sense of self is not rigid, rather, you allow for changes of a small amount that are still considered to be you.

      Once you observe the new gray hair you, in some sense, renormalize your sense of self. You alter the boundaries of your set that is considered as you. You recalculate subconsciously the locus of all that is you, and perceive the new you as a continuation of the old you, not precisely the same as the old you, but close enough in your perception to be thought of as a persistent continuation of the old you.

      Life, among other aspects, is a process of continually allowing for small incremental changes, renormalizing, recentering your locus, readjusting the boundaries of your set that you perceive as your self.

      This succession of readjustments of what is encompassed within the perceived self accounts for the persistence of the self. Each small change is allowed for and every new you is perceptually linked to each old you in an unbroken chain of such linkages.

      These are all strictly mechanistic neural processes, entirely material, merely electrochemical processes in the brain.

      The perceived persistence of self fails to falsify materialism.

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    11. The idea of a substantial form is not a premise, it is a conclusion, given the fact that materialism could not account for persistence of identity, since all of the matter in the body gets replaced without the individual changing. This is no ad hoc solution, but auite literally a stab at the nature of materialism itself, since what persists must be something other than matter. This does not by itself deny supervenience nor does it entail separability. But it is also not ad hoc, since the argument is valid and no unwarranted exceptions have been made. So you'd betrer support that accusation with showing where I applied unprincipled reasoning. At best one or more of my premises is false.

      Which is already where we get into the problems.

      The way I read you, your suggestion is either so radical that it is untenable, or irrelevant.

      An example for the latter is your statement that the sense of self is a dynamic process in the brain. The problem is that the matter in the brain also gets regularily replaced, so for materialism to work we require the identity between self and matter. The problem is that the replacability shows contingency, IF we say that an individual stays self-indentical from conception until death.

      The radical proposal you seem to adhere to is to deny the conditional, that the individuals are self-identical. Of course that is just to deny the datum of individuality, something I'd say obviously false given our private access to our own first-person perspective.

      However you seem to conflate what identity means. Self-identity in tge individual is just the constant conjunction of essential properties, what ever it is that makes the human individual the individual with private first-person perspectives and the potential for rational thinking. What those properties are, is hard to define, but THAT they are, is undeniable. And none of those properties are phenotypical ones, the hair colour our look of an individual is irrelevant to the individuality, since they are accidental.

      Your story about small changes in the material construct thus fail to adress my argument and are a sleight of hand, for the individuality is still not accounted for. What can be identified with the individual on your account is replacable, thus your account seems to lead to the exact mereological nihilism we originally charged tge materialist to be committed to. You can accept that, but I take it as a reductio ad absurdum. Especially if we supplement e.g. the argument from intentionality Atno mentioned, these two datas show that the materialistic reductionistic account is false. It is no wonder that so few accept it nowadays, non-reductive (supervenient) physicalism has replaced it. But that is obviously not materialism anymore

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    12. Dominik,
      Thanks for the long and thoughtful response. I will attempt to respond in kind.

      “The idea of a substantial form is not a premise, it is a conclusion, given the fact that materialism could not account for persistence of identity, since all of the matter in the body gets replaced without the individual changing.”
      Ok, then substantial form is an unsound conclusion based on a false premise, that materialism cannot account for the perceived persistence of identity. Or, perhaps you say that is not a premise either, rather a conclusion built on other arguments, which is then used as a premise in the further argument for substantial form.

      Ok, fair enough, but the bottom line is that the perceived persistence of self, of identity is easily accounted for on materialism.

      “An example for the latter is your statement that the sense of self is a dynamic process in the brain. The problem is that the matter in the brain also gets regularily replaced, so for materialism to work we require the identity between self and matter.”
      David Chalmers proposed the thought experiment, what if we could devise a circuit or technological device that precisely modeled every cell in the brain, and it could be substituted 1 cell at a time, slowly, over time. Would you still be you after the first substitution, the tenth, the millionth, the billionth, after all brain cells had been replaced?

      So yes, if the brain cells are all replaced, one by one, over time, in reality with other brain cells, then yes, the continuity and persistence of identity, or the self, is preserved.

      The reason is that the brain is massively parallel, fault tolerant, has many redundant pathways, and is self-healing.

      So yes, on materialism there is no problem with the persistence of identity even if all the brain cells are replaced, as long as they are replaced one by one or in small enough groups that the redundant pathways can function and the new cells can be integrated into the whole in the self-healing process.

      It would be like replacing all the bricks in a large wall, 1 brick at a time. Removing 1 brick does not cause collapse, then the new brick is put in, the new mortar is allowed time to set, and then another brick is replaced, and another, and another. Suppose the wall had an artistic shape with overall curves and features, those too would be preserved, as is the persistence of identity in the case of brain cells being replaced one by one.

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    13. “Self-identity in tge individual is just the constant conjunction of essential properties, what ever it is that makes the human individual the individual with private first-person perspectives and the potential for rational thinking.”
      First person perspectives change. So there cannot be a continuity of identical first person perspectives from conception to death, for one reason, at conception one has no first person perspectives at all because there is not brain at all. The first person perspectives of a newborn baby are clearly different in the different stages of life, childhood, middle age, old age.

      Those changed states are simply linked as stages along a single timeline. There is no static self, only a lifetime of different selves that are linked as the derivative of the previous self.

      “the individuality is still not accounted for.”
      Well, it is accounted for, namely that there is no static makeup of the individual. All individuals are always in a continual process of change, but each change is only a small portion of the whole, and with each change the sense of self is adjusted to be the new whole.

      “your account seems to lead to the exact mereological nihilism we originally charged tge materialist to be committed to.”
      The perceived continuity of self, persistence of identity, is completely compatible with mereological nihilism. You might consider that radical, but for me this seems plain and easy to understand.

      “the argument from intentionality Atno mentioned,”
      Thank you for bringing that up, my browser glitched on my response to Atno on that subject, I will post it soon, I am sure the good folks here will be waiting with bated breath!

      “But that is obviously not materialism anymore”
      Indeed, in for a penny, in for a pound. Why pussyfoot around with muddy compromises? Follow your arguments to their logical conclusions and if you don’t like the conclusions, too bad, either live with them or change your starting point.

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    14. Atno,
      “There's personal identity”
      Personal identity, the persistence of identity, the continuity of self, are easily accounted for on materialism.

      “There's the basic existence of a unified self/experiencer, while materialism/mereological nihilism would reduce us to bundles of disparate particles”
      Both are true.
      I absolutely must be experiencing my experiences.
      I am composed of cells, which are composed of molecules, composed of atoms, composed of particles, composed of particles, composed of fields, all the way to the bottom, whatever that might turn out to be.

      There is no conflict between the persistence of identity and mereological nihilism.

      “There's consciousness, qualia”
      How do you know that a machine will not experience qualia? After all Skynet became self aware on August 4th, 1997!

      “There's intentionality”
      Intentionality is just an internal modeling process that includes a model for time. Predators exhibit intentionality when the stalk their prey. A self drive car “intends” to take you to your destination.

      “We engage with determinate and universal concepts which are immaterial”
      Concepts are processes of material, not themselves immaterial objects.

      “There's the fact that mental causation and reasoning are completely distinct from physical causation.”
      Except for drugs, injury studies, brain studies, and just the experience of having a light shine in your eye and how the mental causation is linked to the physical.

      Mental causation and reasoning are physical brain processes.

      “There's free will.”
      Free will is an illusion. God’s free will is incoherent on the assertion of his omniscience.

      “Human action is just categorically different from that of billiard balls or even wasps.”
      How is a human brain categorically different from any other animal brain? You are an ape, and by that I do not mean to say you are merely related to apes, you are an ape, an animal.

      “immanent causation”
      Free will is an illusion.

      “There's problems of value.”
      Value is relative and an evolved reproductive benefit mechanism.

      “But once you try to analyze a person through mereological nihilism, all hell breaks loose.”
      Good, I like all hell breaking loose. Fire away.

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    15. In which universe dies the thought experiment of Chalmers support your position? If sound it proves he contingent relation, disproves identity and is a disprove of materialism. It's really not like Chalmers in any form defends materialism

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    16. The wall analogy is either defect or a refutation of your own position. In the former case it doesn't apply. This depends however on the fact whether or not a wall possesses specific bricks essentially. If yes, then it is not the same after replacing them. If not, then we have the platonic form of wallness in which those bricks participate, which refutes materialism

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    17. “First person perspectives change. So there cannot be a continuity of identical first person perspectives from conception to death, for one reason, at conception one has no first person perspectives at all because there is not brain at all. The first person perspectives of a newborn baby are clearly different in the different stages of life, childhood, middle age, old age.“

      It doesn't matter whether the perspective changes. It also doesn't matter whether one looses all memory or undergoes significant character changes. For my example to be cogent it is only of relevance that the first-person perspective is only accessible through the individual with the relevatn haeccity property.

      The biggest problem is still that your account of change in the matter doesn't yield a metaphysical explanation for the
      possibility of continuation of the individual. For even graduaze change must be accounted for, since it is also possible for the matter to be replaced while no change in the mental capacity is undergone. And individuality is not merely the conjunction of memories, but rather the first-person perspective that evaluates said memories and perceptions. Even if that is somehow compatible with MN, one is then forced to ask whether the exchanged matter is itself having a perspective and first-person perspective now. That all seems to lead to a Churchland-Rosenberg kind of eliminativism

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    18. Dominik,
      “the relevatn haeccity property”
      Sorry, I can’t make out the relevant property you are citing. No worries, I will continue on.

      “The biggest problem is still that your account of change in the matter doesn't yield a metaphysical explanation for the possibility of continuation of the individual.”
      Why would we need a metaphysics of the individual? There is no need of a metaphysical individual apart from the material individual. The individual is the collection of material.

      Some folks might say that the individual is the arrangement of mereological simples individual-wise. That language is somewhat awkward, I think, but pretty much works. I don’t have a more succinct and elegant way to put it at the moment. The point is that the exact makeup of the individual is continually changing. There is no continuity of a static fixed self because there is no static fixed self. The set and arrangement of the individual’s parts at any moment is the individual at that moment.

      “For even graduaze change must be accounted for, since it is also possible for the matter to be replaced while no change in the mental capacity is undergone”
      I wouldn’t say precisely zero change in mental capacity. In general we feel like we have the same mental capacity we had a short time ago, but that is not precisely true. Mental capacity changes, for example throughout childhood, and in one’s old age.

      In the aggregate our perception of our own mental capacity may be fairly stable over short periods, but, for example, watching an FMRI video show how dynamic and ever changing mental processes actually are.

      “And individuality is not merely the conjunction of memories, but rather the first-person perspective that evaluates said memories and perceptions”
      Yes, the brain is highly segmented with networks that store memories and networks that analyze sensory signals and networks that monitor the other networks and on and on in a system of vast complexity, all of which is easily accounted for on materialism.

      “That all seems to lead to a Churchland-Rosenberg kind of eliminativism”
      Ok, that seems about right. I am not a devotee of any particular school or follower of any particular philosopher. But a materialist accounting of the individual that sheds light on many of the common illusions and misconceptions about the mind, from a materialist perspective, is a positive step in the right direction.


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    19. Why are people discussing with StarDusty? He doesn't understand these arguments, and doesn't seem sincere in trying to understand them. He thinks very serious issues which trouble materialist philosophers non-stop at academia are "silly". He doesn't know what he's talking about.

      I don't hate him or anything, but I really do wonder why some people bother arguing with him. It might not even be his fault; he just doesn't get this stuff, I don't know how much he has actually read without filtering with his own bias.

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    20. Atno,
      "He thinks very serious issues which trouble materialist philosophers non-stop"
      The so-called problems you cited in your list are not problems at all, as I very briefly explained in each case.

      The objections Dominik has raised are theistic objections, not trouble for materialists.

      You imagine there are so many very deep and troubling and difficult problems with materialism, but you are just wrong about that, as I briefly pointed out to you and explained in more detail to Dominik.

      "he just doesn't get this stuff"
      Which stuff, exactly, is it that you think I don't get?

      There is no problem, on materialism, to account for the persistence of identity, or perceived continuity of self, as I have explained at some length above.

      "I don't know how much he has actually read without filtering with his own bias."
      It appears that your bias in reading is to dismiss out of hand the clear refutations I provide that time and again demonstrate the asserted problems with materialism are not difficult to reconcile on materialism.

      I have yet to see you provide any detailed rational justification for the short claims you make about the supposed problems with materialism, nor have you been able to assist your fellow AT adherents in presenting any reasoned counter arguments to my writing.

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    21. Anto and I don't agree on much, if anything, but we are of one mind here.

      "Why are people discussing with StarDusty?"

      Amen! Stardusty's mind is mush. I think he is just some bored teenager who is using an Essay bot to respond to people.

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    22. “Theistic Objections“

      You can't make that stuff up, lol

      Delete
  10. To get to the point, materialists have the problem that their view leads quite naturally to mereological nihilism. It is quite natural for a materialist to embrace mereological nihilism, since things are explained by their ultimate parts - particles - and what is left for composite objects then? (Hylemorphism, but they're materialists, so...)

    And the issue is that mereological nihilism is terribly problematic. Van Inwagen's version explicitly makes living organisms an exception, which is the recognition that organisms cannot be reduced or explained in the same way that chairs and rocks can. Because with organisms we are dealing with immanent causes, holistic principles, consciousness, selfhood and reason (for us), etc.

    Materialism is hopeless. But non-materialism + proportionate causality quickly leads one to theism. They're just caught up in the problem of having removed theism from their metaphysic, and are slowly figuring out that things stop making sense when you no longer have an adequate, proportionate source or explanation for the many features in reality which cannot be brushed away by mereological nihilism. Give it some 200 years and we'll be back to classical theistic rationalism and its debates with Aristotelians.

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    1. Atno,
      "materialists have the problem"
      Materialism, properly expressed, is completely free of self-contradiction, hardly a problem.

      “And the issue is that mereological nihilism is terribly problematic.”
      Not when properly expressed and understood, no, not problematic at all.

      “organisms cannot be reduced or explained in the same way that chairs and rocks can.”
      Of course they can. Organisms are just more complex and dynamic assemblages.

      “with organisms we are dealing with immanent causes, holistic principles, consciousness, selfhood and reason (for us), etc.”
      Right, those are abstractions used we use to deal with the vast complexity of organisms.

      The fact that we employ approximations and models and analogies to describe organisms in no way makes organisms fundamentally different than what we consider to be other objects.

      For example, how does a star compare to a bacterium? The star is not considered to be an organism, generally, but it is more complex in the sense of the number of beables in it. A star is dynamic, but we see different organizational structures in a bacterium that make it some ways more interesting than a star, perhaps.

      “But non-materialism + proportionate causality quickly leads one to theism.”
      Right, which unlike materialism is merely idle conjecture.

      “and are slowly figuring out that things stop making sense when you no longer have an adequate, proportionate source or explanation for the many features in reality which cannot be brushed away by mereological nihilism.”
      Reductionist materialism, properly expressed and understood, makes complete sense, and is entirely free of self-contradiction.

      At base the only real existent entities are prime fields, or prime matter, or whatever most fundamental entities actually exist. Such entities have no idea what they are doing or why they do what they do, they simply interact in the ways that they do, and that is what all real perceived objects and structures reduce to.

      A chair appears to be a static solid object of a defined shape. Of course we know that is an illusion, an abstraction, an approximation. The chair is mostly space and is in fact a highly dynamic and ever changing collection of assemblages we call atoms, which are themselves assemblages of more fundamental entities and so forth to the bottom, whatever that bottom is in reality.

      Objects are realistic approximations. No assemblage we consider to be an object remains precisely static. The approximation of what we call an object is realistic because an assemblage of fundamental entities, sometimes called beables, really does exist in approximately the envelope we consider.

      Organisms have no fundamental differences than any other dynamic assemblages, it is just that we abstract more perceived approximations we call properties with what we call organisms.

      Theism, immaterialism, spiritualism, and the like, by contrast, are simply incoherent and unrealistic poorly reasoned imaginary placeholders for the complexity of reality that remains beyond our direct perceptive capacities.

      Delete
    2. "Materialism, properly expressed, is completely free of self-contradiction, hardly a problem"

      And yet everything you say in your post gives absolutely no confidence in that claim whatsoever.

      Delete
    3. @ Atno

      Give it some 200 years and we'll be back to classical theistic rationalism and its debates with Aristotelians.

      I'm not this confident but I think it's unsurprising that the best known contemporary neo-rationalists (BonJour, Bealer, Huemer, etc) are all critical of materialism. It's far from obvious how to account for synthetic a priori knowledge given materialism.

      Delete
    4. Johnny,
      "It's far from obvious how to account for synthetic a priori knowledge given materialism."
      One source of a priori knowledge is instinct, that is, inherited brain structures that are somewhat analogous to ROM code in a computer. The knowledge is built in, not acquired by sense experience during the life of the individual.

      Can you give a specific example of synthetic a priori knowledge you think cannot be accounted for on materialism?

      Delete
  11. "concern that substituting action and response for an intrinsic definition amounts to an intellectual sleight of hand is, for most researchers, alleviated by the spectacularly accurate predictions"

    "Greene insists on giving the lower-level story about particles and laws a privileged status, and treating any part of a higher-level story that cannot be reformulated in lower-level terms as merely a useful fiction"

    ReplyDelete
  12. OP
    "But is there anything more to matter than its mathematical structure? Of course there is, because there is no such thing as mathematical structure without some concrete reality that has the structure. Mathematical structure by itself is a mere abstraction from concrete reality"
    Very well said indeed. Like his writings on the A theory of time, Dr. Feser again displays first class writing and communication skills of the utmost logic and reason.

    Thus my contention that Dr. Feser may well be Atheism's finest prodigal son. I truly lament the loss of the Ed Feser of the 1990s.

    Thus, to borrow, revise, and extend Dr. Feser's remarks...
    There is no such thing as *existence* without some concrete reality that has the *existence*.

    There is no such thing as *actuality* without some concrete reality that has the *actuality*.

    There is no such thing as *form* without some concrete reality that has the *form*.

    There is no such thing as *will* without some concrete reality that has the *will*.

    There is no such thing as *mind* without some concrete reality that has the *mind*.

    Thus, it is no such thing as "pure act", "existence itself", or "pure form", rather act, existence, and form are always of a concrete reality that has act, existence, and form.

    Further, since immaterial is not a concrete reality, will and mind cannot be of immaterial, rather, of a concrete reality that has will and mind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tell us, StarshittyCunte... Why are you so stupid? If I were next to you, I'd happily go full inquisition on you. Shut up, just shut up.

      Delete
    2. This particular 'Anonymous' pist is so obnoxious, personally insulting and even threatening, that the scum who wrote it should be banned from here without delay, and this and any other post s(he ) vomits forth sumnmarily deleted. Come on Feser, what are you waiting for?

      Delete
    3. Do you honestly think an immaterial substance is not concrete? You realise Feser is juxtaposing the concrete with the abstract?

      Delete
    4. Callum,
      In that case immaterial is a misnomer, a distinction without a difference.

      If immaterial is concrete and material is concrete then there is no such thing as immaterial, rather, just other sorts of material not yet scientifically detected.

      "Existence itself", "pure act", "pure form", are also abstractions, but of a different sort than mathematical abstractions, because mathematical abstractions, properly formulated, are coherent, whereas the terms "Existence itself", "pure act", and "pure form" are incoherent.

      Delete
    5. To "Unknown" : The day you'll be stalked by SP like I used to be, you'll talk. I'll see if you behave differently. SP is a heinous hateful troll, who has no regard for the wellbeing of others.
      I handle trolls like him the way he handled me.

      Delete
    6. "If immaterial is concrete and material is concrete then there is no such thing as immaterial, rather, just other sorts of material not yet scientifically detected"

      That doesn't follow.

      "Existence itself", "pure act", "pure form", are also abstractions, but of a different sort than mathematical abstractions, because mathematical abstractions, properly formulated, are coherent, whereas the terms "Existence itself", "pure act", and "pure form" are incoherent."

      I dunno. They seem coherent to me.

      Delete
    7. Anon number whatever,
      "I dunno. They seem coherent to me."
      I am not surprised.

      Delete
    8. "I am not surprised"

      As Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln said: "Nothing surprises you, therefore nothing about you is surprising."

      Delete
    9. Concrete doesnt mean physical here. You know the difference between something abstract and something concrete, right?

      Delete
    10. Why would you think that, Callum?

      Delete
    11. "Concrete doesnt mean physical here"
      Concrete is physical, if you don't believe me try punching some.

      Dr. Feser must have equated concrete with physical in the OP when he said "Mathematical structure by itself is a mere abstraction from concrete reality".

      Feser could not have been referring to immaterial as concrete because there is no mathematics of immaterial.

      Dr. Feser must have been referring to concrete as physical because only the physical can be modeled mathematically.

      Delete
  13. Hello, I'm a 20 year old aspiring philosopher, whom, along with my co philosophy partner, have worked several months together, discussing broad topics on epistemology, futurology, rationalism, empiricism, phenomenology, philosophy of science/physics, and more. Unfortunately due to virus shutdown, we've been very isolated, without many philosophy supports in academia or other, whom could help us along in our quest to familiarize ourselves with more persons involved in philosophy communities for publishing teaching and other opportunities in meeting philosophers and philosophical community. One of the activities that would please help so much is if someone also experienced in philosophy, through teaching, publishing, etc., could please reach out via private message and then possibly through email. I have written several essays dating to 2016 on Heidegger, Kant, Aristotle, as well as have written on many more topics with them since then. I envision a future on contributing to both Analytical and Continental philosophy via teaching publishing, and would please like to find persons preferably in philosophy academia whom could please guide us further. Please feel free to comment or please reach me at https://cranbearlyingthundersnowpopsicles.blogspot.com/ if please interested, and I can also please provide email if please desired. Thank you so much ---

    ReplyDelete
  14. About four years ago, I was at a professional workshop (for physicists) where the director of a major lab mentioned in passing his belief that the Universe created itself. I didn't have time to press him on it (he made a number of other unrelated comments that were also pretty dumb that were more urgent), but it reinforced to me how sloppily so many ostensibly well-educated physicists think. I used to think that philosophers talking about physics was the worst. Now I'm convinced it's physicists talking philosophy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That view has been defendee by Quentin Smith in his article “The reason the universe exists is because it created itself“

      Delete
    2. Dominik,
      Thanks for that reference. One place the article can be found is here.

      Kind of interesting. First Smith points out that Bell’s theorem lead to the conclusion that there is some mechanism in the universe for superluminal causation. Okay, yes, Bell himself did not interpret his theorem as disproving determinism, rather, disproving locality.

      So, Smith then proceeds to try to pull himself up by the bootstraps, stating that at t=0 entity A caused entity B, and entity B caused entity A. Smith is correct that since Newton, as explained by Russell, it has been well known that causation is mutual, not linear or hierarchical. What Smith fails to account for is how A and B got there in the first place,

      Yes, any sound understanding of causation is formulated as mutual causation. Causation is fundamentally circular, not linear, that is well understood by all who are thinking soundly on the subject. But in all cases of causation presently observed both A and B already exist. Smith fails to account for this problem at t=0.

      Smith then goes into a version of Zeno’s paradox, which of course is false in all its formulations. Smith then goes on to confuse half open finite intervals with the concept of dt.

      Smith then brings up Guth’s notion of compressing a vast amount of matter into the size of a proton, which will explode and spawn a universe. Well, fine, perhaps, but where did all that matter the size of a proton come from in the first place? Guth, like all others, remains unhelpful in explaining the ultimate origin of existence.

      The simple truth is that no physicist, no philosopher, and no theologian has published into general presently available circulation a sound explanation for the origin of all that exists, as opposed to absolutely nothing at all.

      Dr. Feser has not solved this ancient riddle, nor has Guth, Hawking, Aquinas, the bible, Krauss, Craig, or any other such pretenders to the throne.

      All arguments that attempt to solve the riddle of the origin of existence lead to irrational assertions. That’s why the origin of existence is a riddle, nobody has solved it.

      Dear reader, I am not here to tell you I have the answer, I am here to tell you that you do not have the answer.

      Delete
    3. Absolutely nothing at all, presupposes that everything had to become, either temporally or ontologically. However given the fact that something exists in this world, plus “ex nihilo nihil fit“ and Axiom S5, we can conclude that absolute nothingness is impossible.

      Delete
    4. Dominik,
      “we can conclude that absolute nothingness is impossible.”
      Yes, on my self-awareness it is absolutely impossible that there is no existence of any kind.

      I think, therefore something exists.

      But the valid question remains, why is it the case that I or anything at all exists? True, on the knowledge that I am self aware the probability of absolute nothingness being the case is 0.

      But why is that the case, as opposed to nothingness being the case? It seems as though nothingness would require no explanations at all. If nothingness were the case there would be no utterance of “ex nihilo nihil fit“ or “Axiom S5” or anything else. No explanation would be demanded because there would be nothing to explain. Nothingness doesn’t need a reason, sufficient or otherwise.

      Yet there is something, not nothingness, and that fact calls for a reason, yet no such reason is available.

      The question of the origin of existence remains an unsolved riddle. All attempts at solving this riddle always lead to an irrational assertion of one sort or another.


      Something from nothing is irrational.

      An actual infinite is irrational.

      The speculation of god solves no logical problem, rather, only pushes the irrationality of an actual infinite back a step.

      The universe from a primordial quantum fluctuation solves nothing because where did the space come from to do the quantum fluctuating? Again, like the speculation of god, this assertion merely pushes the problem back a step.

      The universe from the multiverse solves nothing, because where did the multiverse come from? Again, merely pushing the problem back a step.


      The riddle of the origin of existence remains unsolved, and given the centuries of brilliant people who have tried to solve this problem yet always failed, it seems likely to me that humanity will never solve this riddle.

      Dear reader, I am not here to tell you I have solved the riddle of the origin of existence, I am here to tell you that you have not solved it.

      Delete
    5. I gave you a proof above, but you obviously didn't understand it. So here again:

      1. Something exists.
      2. Ex nihilo nihil fit.
      3. Axiom S5 (what is possible is necessarily possible).

      Conclusion: Necessarily, something exists.

      Delete
    6. Hi StardustyPsyche, I like your views and fully agree. I think there is an eternal something, probably entirely non-sentient but I do have a soft spot for Galen Strawson and the idea that that original something might have consciousness as an element to it. That something dramatically transforms into the physical universe, whether as a procreative event or an infinitely repeating cycle of universe creation ending in involution back to the primordial state wherein it all dwells for a time before the next Big Bang...

      This stuff can be rather unsettling to think about, especially where cannabis is an influence. But given that I think the emergence of sentience the most terrible thing that could conceivably happen in a universe (and of course I'm limited here as an ape to only those phenomena I know about) that endlessly repeating cycle (which I think is the theme in Hinduism) does unnerve me particularly.

      I'd be interested to know if you've written more about your view of the world elsewhere.

      Delete
    7. Dominik,
      I understand quite well, for example Plantinga likes S5, but then, Plantinga puts out absurd arguments like the Ontological Argument with a straight face, so it’s pretty hard to take this seriously. But, I suppose that is guilt by association, just a feeling of being incredulous, so let’s take a bit more careful look.

      1. Something exists.
      2. Ex nihilo nihil fit.
      3. Axiom S5 (what is possible is necessarily possible).

      Sure, if X then necessarily X. Of course, that is merely a tautology, so what?

      If we know for a fact that X is the case then it must be that X is the case, well, yeah, of course, is that supposed to be some great revelation?

      We already know that something exists.
      Therefore it is possible that something exists.
      And if it is possible that something exists then it has to be possible that something exists. So what?

      I mean, if it is known that X exists then it cannot be the case that it is impossible for X to exist, so it absolutely must be possible that X exists.

      None of that helps to answer the perfectly valid question, why does X exist at all?

      Why isn’t the other possibility the case, that X does not exist?

      I guess you feel you have some sort of knock down argument here. In reality you have done no logical work whatever in solving what is perhaps the greatest unsolved riddle of all, the origin of existence.

      Delete
    8. GabaBee
      "that that original something might have consciousness as an element to it. ... cannabis is an influence."
      Hmm, well, you know Sam Harris is rather open about his use of hallucinogens, although I suspect the ideas formulated under the influence seem a great deal more profound while under the influence and tend to loose their luster when one sobers up.

      There could be, however, a more lasting benefit, something along the lines of a willingness to think outside the box, to be imaginative and open to what others might consider to be very strange and odd ideas, yet in later years turn out in fact to be the case.

      But, I don't think a universal consciousness holds up to closer examination.

      Observed instances of consciousness track brain complexity, size, and organizational development. It seems that only a very advanced processing device of vast complexity and computing power can be conscious. It is hard to see how amorphous stuff could be conscious at all.

      And if consciousness is just sort of out there how does it divide and become attached to brains? I just don't see a plausible mechanism for all that.

      "I'd be interested to know if you've written more about your view of the world elsewhere."
      Oh, I post over at Dangerous Idea, Shadow to Light and here, of late. CFI is ok but rather dull. One of the posters here referenced a 3000 post thread, https://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2017/01/david-haines-defense-of-aquinas-first.html?commentPage=16

      I posted a long series of detailed refutations of the syllogistic form published by David Haines on his site, but those comments are gone now, I think because David changed servers and all comments got wiped out.

      Delete
  15. BTW, where are all the materialists we hear so much from on other posts on this blog? It's just crickets here (all we have is Stardusty and he’s just mentally ill).

    And where are all the atheists who want to argue that atheism is not materialism? (an atheist is just a materialist who knows better than to take the bait)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Since you asked, I'll respond to the three main parts, then the opening.


      The first part:

      Very true. The problem, though, is that Greene seems to think that if we did have a complete mathematical description of the particles that make up a brain, then we would have captured all there is to the brain.

      This seems to set up a straw man for Feser to knock down. It would be better for Feser to not assume the Greene accepts the converse of Greene's statements. The entire first part of Feser's essay seems to be based on this assumption.


      The second part of the essay doesn't even quote Greene.


      The third part:

      Again, the view starts with the primary/secondary quality thesis that redness, heat, etc. as common sense understands such qualities don’t exist in the external material world but only in our representations of it, as the qualia of conscious experience.

      Except, Greene doesn't claim heat, redness, etc. don't exist, and adding "as common sense understands such" doesn't make this true of Greene's text. Again, Feser is arguing with a straw man here, based on the excerpts he has presented.

      The brain abstracts nerve impulses to interpret phenomena. This avoids the supposedly higher-level problem, because living things with no brains at all have cellular activities that perform abstractions in the phenomena they encounter.


      That said, I tend to agree with the opening and closing thoughts. Physicists do regularly embarrass themselves when opining on philosophy, and need to approach the subject with more humility.

      Delete
    2. And where are all the atheists who want to argue that atheism is not materialism? (an atheist is just a materialist who knows better than to take the bait)

      I've interacted with an atheist who believed they had experienced ghosts, another who believed in ESP, and a couple who believe in reincarnation. Do any of these beliefs fit under "materialism" to you?

      Delete
    3. One Brow is back! Hey One Brow!

      You say don’t assume “Greene accepts the converse of Greene's statements.” The converse is: If we’ve captured all there is to a brain, then we have a complete mathematical description, which you say is not true. You’re going to make me ask you to explain when your “explanation” was supposed to do that already? OK. So, as a materialist, how would you have a complete description of a brain that is not exhaustive in physical terms?

      Your argument about the third part is a dodge as it does not address the point: qualia is not a physical property such as wavelengths, surface reflectance, ect.

      Do the atheists you know think that reincarnation, and ghosts, and ESP have something other than material causes? If so, what are the non-physical causes that somehow don't disqualify the person as an atheist?

      But the real question here, One Brow, is this: you are arguing that Feser is wrong. Feser is merely a sum total of physical properties reducible to particle movements. What standard tells you that some particle movements can be “wrong” and other particle movements can be “right”?

      Delete
    4. No, it's not "Feser" that's wrong, it's the STATEMENTS he made.

      But it remains: Feser's "statements" are either just the keystrokes his deterministically mandated fingers hit in a sequence, meaning nothing, or the chance arrangement of electrons on a screen, meaning nothing. How can an arrangement of electrons be "wrong"?

      Delete
    5. Tony,

      Fair enough. I might add that your presumption to be able to think about or answer the problem objectively is also meaningless (if materialism is true). This also applies, obviously, to any answer that One Brow can give.

      But don't worry, I know One Brow, and he will return and will have a heaping pile of obfuscation to serve up.

      Delete
    6. Tony,
      " How can an arrangement of electrons be "wrong"? "
      By convention. Right and wrong are relative.

      If you are asking how any arrangement of material can be shown to be absolutely wrong, it can't.

      One cannot derive an absolute right and wrong on atheism or reductionist materialism.

      It can't be done, but that makes a lot of my fellow atheist materialists feel bad for some reason, so they try to smuggle in various attempts a defining an absolute right and wrong on atheism. One little problem with that, it can't be done.

      Fortunately, it turns out we can do quite well by our own lights, by convention, with just relative right and wrong.

      So, the lack of absolute right and wrong just doesn't bother me.

      TN,
      "meaningless (if materialism is true)"
      Indeed, if materialism is true then there is no ultimate meaning, no absolute meaning, to anything in the universe (in the broadest sense of the word "universe", not merely our big bang).

      Meaning is relative, by convention. Since there is by definition nothing other than all that exists there can be nothing outside of all that exists to be used to establish a relationship with all that exists, so the totality of existence cannot have any meaning, it simply does exist as it does, for no purpose, to no good or evil, for no right or wrong.

      We human beings simply establish conventions or relationships that we consider to have meaning for ourselves.

      I suppose all that makes a lot of people feel empty, or despondent, or sad, or somehow lost in a vast purposeless universe with no reason to live. I am not one of those people, rather, I find it extremely marvelous that I can understand the universe to any realistic extent at all, and I revel in this brief life we each have, not caring a wit at the lack of absolute morality or meaning to be found in it.

      "One Brow, and he will return and will have a heaping pile of obfuscation to serve up"
      Indeed, obtuse, voluminous, straw man, red herring, smoke screen seems to be the major element to his posts.

      I prefer to go directly at the core of the argument.

      Delete
    7. "Indeed, if materialism is true then there is no ultimate meaning, no absolute meaning, to anything in the universe (in the broadest sense of the word "universe", not merely our big bang)."

      Indeed. It goes even further than that. There is no meaning, period. Even for materialism. So the materialist must forever spout gibberish. It's quite sad.

      "We human beings simply establish conventions or relationships that we consider to have meaning for ourselves"

      Well, as I pointed out above, not even that really.

      Delete
    8. "Indeed. It goes even further than that."
      No, it doesn't

      "here is no meaning, period."
      Wrong, meaning is relative, a relationship. One thing means something in relationship to something else.

      "Well, as I pointed out above, not even that really. "
      Yes that, really. Real material does nave real relationships to other real material. That is what meaning is, the relationships between real things.

      Since there is no such thing as an ultimate or absolute meaning to anything in the universe, and you fail to see the obvious relative meanings, then you can find no meanings at all.

      There is your sadness.

      Delete
    9. "No, it doesn't"
      Yeah, it does.

      "Wrong, meaning is relative, a relationship. One thing means something in relationship to something else."

      Careful. Starting to sound like you accept intentionality.

      "Since there is no such thing as an ultimate or absolute meaning to anything in the universe"

      Still haven't demonstrated this.

      Delete
    10. "Starting to sound like you accept intentionality."
      Intentionality is easily accounted for on materialism.

      Our intentions are like the intention of a cat to jump on and eat its prey, so the cat stalks, jumps, and adjusts in the act though sense feedback motor control to achieve that intention, the successful kill.

      Intention is merely an artifact of an an internal modeling process that includes a model for time, and includes reasoning as to what actions now are likely to lead over time to a particular abstracted goal, such as killing prey.

      In much the same way a self drive car "intends" to get to a particular location. The car has in its processing networks an abstracted model of that final location and the route to get there and the steps needed to get there. The car then executes those steps using, literally, motor control, and uses sense feedback to make fine scale adjustments along the way.

      Intent in a car, in a cat, in a human being, all simply based on material processes that include spatio/temporal/motor internal abstractions calculated to be likely to result in arriving in reality at the abstracted goal.

      Delete
    11. "Intentionality is easily accounted for on materialism."

      Bwahahahahha.....

      Delete
    12. "The brain abstracts nerve impulses to interpret phenomena."

      This brain guy seems quite a smart dude.

      Delete
    13. Anon and grodrigues,

      I assume you are replying to Stardusty (don't read his posts). Obviously the experience of red is not the same thing as the description of the wavelenth of red. In fact assigning a wavelength to the experience requires a conscious subject. A computer takes mechanical inputs and returns mechanical outputs. But the computer was first designed by a conscious subject who assigned which outputs match the given inputs. The materialist must explain the conscious subject, but he just assumes it (that's what One Brow will do when he responds; I've argued with him before).

      Delete
    14. TN,

      Yeah, we know this. He's so arrogant in his posts that it's difficult not to respond to him and he clearly isn't interested in really understanding anything like the Aristotelian-Thomist POV. That's clear when he commits what an Aristotelian is obviously going to regard as a mereological fallacy with regard to brains and how they function. He just assumes we're not familiar with objections like his and doesn't even bother anticipating responses. It's dumb, probably a pointless waste of time, and I wish Feser would just flat-out delete his posts, but it is what it is.

      Delete
    15. Anon,

      Sorry, there are limits to electronic correspondence (and typing on a phone while distracted). No offense.

      Delete
    16. "Our intentions are ........"

      lol..
      Thats all anyone needs to know about how much you actually grasp this issue

      Delete
    17. @T N:

      I was talking a jab at One Brow, not Stardusty. There is still hope for the former in that he can still recognize what an argument is, most of the times anyway; for the latter, my sadly vast experience tells me I have a better chance of having an intelligent conversation with a brick wall.

      Delete
    18. T N

      And where are all the atheists who want to argue that atheism is not materialism? (an atheist is just a materialist who knows better than to take the bait)

      An atheist is someone who doesn't believe that God/gods exist(s) or who believes that God/gods do(es) not exist.
      That's it. Some atheists are materialist, some aren't. There is some variation among atheists, not as much as among theists, but still significant.

      Delete
    19. @ grodrigues,

      LOL!

      Yeah, the thing with One Brow is he seems rationally coherent at first (combative and pedantic to be sure, but coherent nonetheless), but after a while you start to realize that his goals in a discussion are far different than a normal person. I think he’s a narcissist who comes here to exercise his need to control others—particularly smart people like one finds on this type of forum. A narcissist will get on a forum like this and gaslight as a form of “punishing” people who fail to recognize their superiority. He’ll just swallow a flat contradiction and counter with some smug quip. There are no fixed principles of rational discourse for the narcissist, there is only the self and the praise due to self.

      Delete
    20. Walter,

      Yes, I am very well aware that atheists bury their heads in the sand and fall back on the “atheists-just-don’t-believe-in-God” retort every time they are confronted with the implications of their claimed belief. But nonetheless, the fact remains that atheism has implications that cannot be conveniently ignored whenever one wants to escape those implications.

      I know that many atheists claim to not be materialists (Bertrand Russell being the most admirable IMO), but, in the words of the eminently respected, gun-toting philosopher, Rayland Givens: “that don’t make it so”. Non-materialist atheists have no answer to how there is something non-material, with intentionality, that is above matter but cannot be called “God”. Non-materialist atheists have no answer on the interaction problem they create by such theories as neutral monism. Non-materialist atheists make as much sense as a pro-abortion Catholic.

      Delete
    21. Anonymous,
      Indeed. It goes even further than that. There is no meaning, period. Even for materialism. So the materialist must forever spout gibberish. It's quite sad.

      People have found me intelligible enough that have put a moniker on my thoughts about the world (although I'm not sure if it applies). It's not gibberish if it is understood.

      Delete
    22. T N,
      The materialist must explain the conscious subject, but he just assumes it (that's what One Brow will do when he responds; I've argued with him before).

      We agree conscious subjects exist, therefore I assume they exist. Neither of us has a demonstrable method for explaining the origin of consciousness, therefore it is a mystery for both of us.

      Why do I need to "explain" it? I am content not knowing the source. In any claim that materialists must be able to fully reconstructed the process of consciousness forming, or else accept that God did it, I see similarities between that argument and the God of the Gaps creationists are are so fond of.

      Delete
    23. grodrigues,
      I was talking a jab at One Brow, not Stardusty. There is still hope for the former in that he can still recognize what an argument is, most of the times anyway; for the latter, my sadly vast experience tells me I have a better chance of having an intelligent conversation with a brick wall.

      I sorry you were so hurt by our last conversation. Should you want to try again, I'll strive to be clearer in my explanations for you.

      Delete
    24. TN,
      " Non-materialist atheists make as much sense as a pro-abortion Catholic."
      Agreed. Simply rejecting the notion of god does not guarantee that the individual will think clearly in all matters, but it a necessary step, and a very good beginning.

      Delete
    25. T N,
      Yeah, the thing with One Brow is he seems rationally coherent at first (combative and pedantic to be sure, but coherent nonetheless), but after a while you start to realize that his goals in a discussion are far different than a normal person. I think he’s a narcissist who comes here to exercise his need to control others—particularly smart people like one finds on this type of forum. A narcissist will get on a forum like this and gaslight as a form of “punishing” people who fail to recognize their superiority. He’ll just swallow a flat contradiction and counter with some smug quip. There are no fixed principles of rational discourse for the narcissist, there is only the self and the praise due to self.

      Certainly, my goals in a conversation are frequently not those of the person with whom I am discussing things. For example, just a couple of months ago it was grodrigues (IIRC) who referred to as the "enemy". I don't understand that at all.

      As for "swallow a flat contradiction", that usually happens when I don't see something as a contradiction. Too many of my posts are already more than long enough, and I'm a terrible typist. I don't want to make them longer.

      As for the rest, it's unfortunate that you see me that way, but I don't think I can change it. I don't see myself that way. I will say that, while we occasionally disagree, I certainly don't see you as anything other than a bright person interested in discussing what is true, and I thank you for your responses, even (perhaps especially) when I disagree with them.

      Delete
    26. One Brow:

      "I sorry you were so hurt by our last conversation."

      FWIW, I am also sorry to have lost my patience at you, when it was more than you clear that you knew nothing of the subject and needed things explained as if you were a 5-year old.

      " For example, just a couple of months ago it was grodrigues (IIRC) who referred to as the "enemy". I don't understand that at all."

      I can see why you would not understand it -- and just in case of doubt, there is not the least hint of irony in my statement. It is simply a difference of how we see discussion and what we are fighting for/against.

      Delete
    27. "Why do I need to "explain" it? I am content not knowing the source. In any claim that materialists must be able to fully reconstructed the process of consciousness forming, or else accept that God did it, I see similarities between that argument and the God of the Gaps creationists are are so fond of."

      The issue is that we might not have a complete theory, but we do know a bare minimum that an explanation will have to abide by. The explanation will have to involve adequate and proportional causes - no appeals to magical emergence of a radically different property or power from nothing. Consciousness must come from consciousness; follow the way and you'll get to a being we call "God" out of courtesy.

      Delete
    28. I agree with Atno's reply directly above. And I would also say, as Thomas Nagel does, that for those reasons materialism cannot provide a complete theory as it's advocates contend.

      Delete
    29. Atno,
      "The explanation will have to involve adequate and proportional causes - no appeals to magical emergence of a radically different property or power from nothing"
      False dichotomy.

      Does a star have to come from a star? Does a nuclear reaction have to come from a nuclear reaction? Does a snowflake have to come from a snow flake?

      The term "emergent property" is misleading at best. Some people say that heat is an emergent property of molecular motion, which might serve some practical value in simplifying a problem that would otherwise be too complicated to work with in full detail at our level of perception. But still, heat is just an approximation of what is really going on, molecular motion, which is in turn a simplification for what is really going on, the arrangements of mereological simples.

      A snowflake does not emerge out of nothing, nor does it come from a snowflake, there is your false dichotomy.

      A snowflake is what we perceive as a single object, but is actually composed of water molecules. Each molecule binds to adjacent molecules by local forces. It just turns out that when a billion billion million water molecules bump into each other out of an amorphous solution they either bounce away back into solution or they attach at particular angles. The aggregate of myriad submicroscopic interactions is perceived at our level as a single object, a snowflake.

      "Consciousness must come from consciousness"
      Ad hoc. Why? We see all around us complex systems that arise from a vast multitude of much simpler systems. Why should a brain function be any different?

      The principle of proportional causation is just nonsense. There is no such sound principle. Causation is fundamentally mutual and circular, not linear or hierarchical. Causation progresses though time at the submicroscopic level in a multibody mutual interaction problem of such vast complexity that we could not possibly analyze the problem in full detail.

      So, we approximate, abstract, and treat assemblages as if they were a whole single object. That works well to function day to day, moment to moment. It is completely unsound as the basis for a realistic philosophy of causation.

      Delete
    30. "So, we approximate, abstract, and treat assemblages as if they were a whole single object"

      Who is this "we" that is doing all this approximating, abstracting, etc.?

      Delete
    31. Anon,
      "Who is this "we" that is doing all this approximating, abstracting, etc.?"
      Organisms with a brain.

      Even a mouse can learn. What is inside the skull of a mouse? Well, a small brain, made of cells, similar to parts of the human brain.

      There is no actual maze inside the skull of a mouse, only brain cells. Yet the mouse is able to learn, to remember, to abstract the maze.

      Clearly, the mouse is not pondering whether the walls of the maze are made of atoms, subatomic particles, fields, and really mereological simples. The mouse does not need to.

      The abstraction of the maze in the mind of the mouse is undoubtedly highly approximated, but it is good enough to function as a basis for motor control to obtain the intentionality of the mouse, to get to the food.

      Delete
    32. @SdP

      Organisms and brains? There are only simples, no? I mean, this is what is you seems to mean here:

      "The term "emergent property" is misleading at best. Some people say that heat is an emergent property of molecular motion, which might serve some practical value in simplifying a problem that would otherwise be too complicated to work with in full detail at our level of perception. But still, heat is just an approximation of what is really going on, molecular motion, which is in turn a simplification for what is really going on, the arrangements of mereological simples."

      Do brains and organism actually exist or do only simples arranged in diferent ways exist? You sounds to me like a sort of mereological nihilist.

      Delete
    33. Talmid,

      Sigggghhhhh. Yeah, that sound was the whoooosh going over his head. I really don't know why I bother to debate him. It's like checkmating an opponent in a chess game who keeps playing as if nothing had just happened. I turn his own arguments back on him, as in a judo flip, and he doesn't even see where I'm going with it. Facepalm.

      Delete
    34. Anon number something or other,
      "I turn his own arguments back on him,"
      There are so many of you out there I cannot guess who is who. If you want to make some actual arguments and identify yourself sufficiently to engage, fine.

      Else, you may continue to be a legend in your own mind, tossing out unidentified scattershot, and smacking yourself in the face all you wish.

      Delete
    35. Talmid,
      "Organisms and brains? There are only simples, no?"
      No, they are assemblages of simples.

      That would be like saying a bird is only cells. Well, a bird is made up of cells, but a bird is more than just a cell, or an amorphous pile of cells. A bird is a collection of different sorts of cells in particular arrangements.

      One cell by itself cannot transport itself through the air. An amorphous collection of cells cannot transport themselves through the air. But a collection of cells arranged as a bird can transport the entire collection of cells through the air.

      Mereological simples are like that.

      “Do brains and organism actually exist or do only simples arranged in diferent ways exist?”
      Does a rock exist or only the minerals in particular arrangements?
      Do the minerals exist or only molecules in particular arrangements?
      Do molecules exist or only atoms in particular arrangements?
      Do atoms exist or only particles in particular arrangements?
      Do particles exist or only fields in particular arrangements?
      Do fields exist or only simples in particular arrangements?

      Is a theist capable of fine scale reasoning or only simplistic strawmen?

      If by “exist” you mean, “is an indivisible single entity” then no, no composite entity exists.

      If by “exist” you mean, “there is really stuff there, although the single label given to it is only an approximation of its true existential nature”, then yes, composite entities exist.

      “You sounds to me like a sort of mereological nihilist.”
      Thank you, how very kind of you to pay me that compliment.

      Delete
    36. T N

      Non-materialist atheists have no answer to how there is something non-material, with intentionality, that is above matter but cannot be called “God”. Non-materialist atheists have no answer on the interaction problem they create by such theories as neutral monism.

      Just like theists, non-material atheists have no answer on lots of things. Nobody has an answer on everything.

      A pro-abortion Catholic is a contradiction because Catholicism explicitly forbids abortion. A non-material atheist is not a contradiction because nothing in the definition of atheism necessarily implies materialism.

      Delete
    37. Walter,

      You said: “A non-material atheist is not a contradiction because nothing in the definition of atheism necessarily implies materialism.”

      That is the conclusion to be shown, not a premise to be assumed.

      No one is arguing that either they or their opponent can or must give an exhaustive account of fundamental principles, or consciousness, or whatever. The argument is whether or not non-materialist atheism can give an answer that is coherent. So, to that end, kindly give some explanation as to how it can be claimed that we have non-material substances with intentionality that cannot be called “God”.

      I’m not claiming you must give an exhaustive explanation of everything. Deductive arguments for the existence of God have been given ad nauseum on this forum. Give some account of how a non-materialist atheist gets to concede there are non-material substances but don’t have to follow the implications of this fact to its end.

      Delete
    38. After giving some reflection on the matter, I've come to a grave realization: I and everyone else here should apologize to Stardusty. We've been cruel and should have some compassion here.

      See, it's not nice to make fun of the mentally retarded. Presumably we believe in practicing virtue and we've failed to do it. Sadly he likely has to wear one of those protective helmets to prevent further damage. This explains why he's making what he thinks are "arguments".

      I now think I've identified him, the poor soul. Stardusty, it's okay. I know Bubba and Jenny are dead and gone, but you still have Lieutenant Dan to keep you company and help you take care of your "I see dead people" kid. You're good at lots of things, but instead of philosophy you should stick to ping pong. It's okay, we can't do everything. Just don't lose that feather, okay?

      Delete
    39. grodrigues

      FWIW, I am also sorry to have lost my patience at you, when it was more than you clear that you knew nothing of the subject and needed things explained as if you were a 5-year old.

      Certainly you explained yourself well, but it was odd because rather than address the simple eample I had created in a response to StardustyPsyche and directed you to, you went off on some elementary stuff that didn't address my point directly nor even look at my example.

      I can see why you would not understand it -- and just in case of doubt, there is not the least hint of irony in my statement. It is simply a difference of how we see discussion and what we are fighting for/against.

      Well, that's rather sad. Overall, I think we are more likely fighting for the same things more than opposing things. Perhaps that's also why you found it so difficult to make a simple examination. Enemies must be defeated, after all. It's a poisonous mind-set.

      Delete
    40. Atno,
      The explanation will have to involve adequate and proportional causes - no appeals to magical emergence of a radically different property or power from nothing.

      I agree that if we ever have a material explanation for consciousness, this will have to be a part of it.

      One hundred years ago we had no explanation for biological inheritance. We may have a material explanation for consciousness a hundred years from now, or two hundred. I see no reason to assume it does not exist.

      Delete
    41. Walter,
      "A non-material atheist is not a contradiction because nothing in the definition of atheism necessarily implies materialism."
      Hmm...How does one get to immaterial from atheism?

      How does one get to immaterial at all?

      Just supposing there is some ectoplasm spooky misty something or other in my skull cohabiting with my brain, wouldn't that necessarily just be another sort of material not yet scientifically discovered?

      How is the term "immaterial" coherent at all, much less coherent on atheism?

      I don't see how, on atheism, if one reasons carefully through to its fullest implications, one can fail to arrive at a reductionist materialist view absent any source for absolute morality, ultimate meaning, or ultimate purpose.

      Delete
    42. Oh Stardusty, you poor bastard....

      "Hmm...How does one get to immaterial from atheism?"

      What a weird question. Why would you get to immaterial or material FROM atheism? That's just backwards.

      "Just supposing there is some ectoplasm spooky misty something or other in my skull cohabiting with my brain, wouldn't that necessarily just be another sort of material not yet scientifically discovered?"

      Wow! You've managed to hit on the tired materialist canard about 'ectoplamic goo'! We've NEVER heard this before!

      I must double down on my suspicion of your identity. When it comes to philosophy...

      Run, Forrest, run!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Delete
    43. @One Brow:

      "you went off on some elementary stuff that didn't address my point directly nor even look at my example."

      I do not wish to resume the discussion, but the "elementary stuff" that flew over you is precisely why your example does not work. It is a perk of education to know when things work and don't work. And my education is in mathematics, and to a lesser extent in physics, so yeah unlike you I do know what I am talking about. Sorry to pull rank, but them's the breaks.

      "Overall, I think we are more likely fighting for the same things more than opposing things. Perhaps that's also why you found it so difficult to make a simple examination. Enemies must be defeated, after all. It's a poisonous mind-set."

      You are wrong about fighting for the same things. I remember calling you a Frankfurtean Bullshitter and I stand by the analysis. As far as "simple examination" your lack of self awareness is stunning bit not unsurprising -- it is just a matter of going through the discussion and how it went.

      As far as enemies, sure they must be defeated. But there are weapons, some of mass destruction, that are not available to me and are/were they to be used it means that the defeat wqould be mine. But once again this is all not terribly important, and whether or not you understand makes no difference at all. Make of it what you will. I am sure you will want to add something, if nothing else to have the last word, so be my guest (the only thing I would object to is would-be mischaracterizations).

      Delete
    44. Do you religionists get a thrill out of abusing StardustyPsyche and pretending like his questions and opinions are trivial? Do you think your replies are going to be compelling to readers who are not already determined dogmatic theists? Because what I see is genuine, patient, and probing questions posed that barely anyone even attempts to engage with. Instead he's a 'troll' and to be ignored. Looks awfully like you're hopelessly lost and lacking any ability to engage to this outsider.

      And what model in philosophy of mind are you operating under? Is substance dualism just the effortlessly accepted totally uncriticised order of the day around here?

      Delete
    45. Completely agree with you.

      They are a frequently obnoxious and deluded bunch, and their treatment of dissenters exemplifies this. Good job that the church has had its winged clipped over the centuaries ( though that is a work in progress, and we have far to go with it yet ), otherwise Stardusty et al would be slowly combusting atop a pyre. Now , in their twisted imaginations, the faithful will have to wait until the afterlife for their infinately good deity to accomplish this for them eternally, without any possibility of reprieve. Inhuman, sick and perverse.

      Delete
    46. @GabaBee:

      "Is substance dualism just the effortlessly accepted totally uncriticised order of the day around here?"

      This sentence alone speaks volumes about your knowledge of what is believed "around here".

      That you think that Stardusty poses "genuine, patient, and probing questions" points to pure delusion. That you presume to tell us that "barely anyone even attempts to engage with" without even the slightest hint of knowledge the looong discussions with over thousands of words over several threads that many of us have had (one of them, not in this blog, with over 3000 comments) shows that you know nothing of the long history of Stardusty.

      It is not my place, or my interest really, to tell you to shut up, but just think that maybe, just maybe people here have a reason to treat Stardusty the way they do. Of course it could also indeed be the case that we "religionists" are deathly afraid and utterly unable to handle Stardusty's "genuine, patient, and probing questions". Or it could be that he is a moron. Take your pick, I couldn't care less.

      edited: fixed name.

      Delete
    47. @GabaBee:

      And I forgot a very important piece of info: Stardusty was explicitly banned by the owner of the blog, a badge of honor that few can boast. I will spare you the details.

      Make of it what you will: say, religionists are an intolerant bunch.

      Delete
    48. GabaBee:

      I'm not even a Christian, nor belong to any organized religion. Stardusty is simply trolling and people are responding to him in kind. Take this answer he gives to someone who thinks qualia is a problem for materialism:

      "How do you know that a machine will not experience qualia? After all Skynet became self aware on August 4th, 1997!"

      I mean, it's that kind of crap. It would be one thing if he asked some questions or had some in-depth familiarity with the philosophical positions here such that he could anticipate the objections that would be tossed out and deal with them before someone brought them up. That's the sign of a good philosopher. He just isn't serious.

      Delete
    49. @grodrigues Apparently I'm not alone in my observations - look up at Unknown's comment with the words 'completely agree with you'.

      Granted I've not been around this blog for years and seen the goings-on, I'm speaking as a visitor who has carefully read perhaps a dozen posts and most of their comments over the course of about 9 months. And what I've seen is the same pattern - Stardusty makes a comment that represents a genuine criticism of what someone else has said, and then he gets slapped down by what are usually the same names - the advisory note of his banning (which is apparently totally ineffectual) often accmopanying it.

      Look at your peevish reaction to my QUESTION about substance dualism. I didn't say it's the predominant theory of mind around here, I asked if it was. You come across as a rather unpleasant person.

      Since this is a particular interest of mine, I'd rather like to know hwo God allegedly has set things up so my immortal self (which I observe is constantly changes and can be selectively altered in its character by various drugs or injury to the brain) is going to exist as my body decays. I was obsessively interested in spiritualism for some years, and this issue was very important to me. And yet looking at every mystical or metaphysical system I could, I yet was never able to find an answer that was remotely satisfactory.

      Events in my brain continuously generate all my conscious states. I resisted that fact bitterly for years just as in my teens I resisted the idea there were contradictions in the Bible because I wanted a life beyond this one (I think the craving to keep existing is our deepest cognitive bias as Thomas Metzinger has said). But I think it's the obvious truth and I've found all the alternative models totally unsatisfying.

      Delete
    50. @Anonymous - I saw that comment too and treated it as an obviously silly or sarcastic comment. And given that the brain is a machine that does generate conscious experience I don't even find the comment that disagreeable, although I don't think a computer program can ever be conscious. Although that isn't a far-out theory in philosophy at all so I think you're displaying some prejudice here. There are serious simulation advocates for heaven's sake - I think they're wrong but Nick Bostrom is not some uneducated idiot.

      Nor do I observe these snarky comments to be an habitual pattern as all, as you are suggesting. You've picked one comment out of a large field. I've seen him praise certain of Dr Feser's insights too - did you miss the comment:
      'Very well said indeed. Like his writings on the A theory of time, Dr. Feser again displays first class writing and communication skills of the utmost logic and reason'?

      Delete
    51. @GabaBee:

      "Look at your peevish reaction to my QUESTION about substance dualism. I didn't say it's the predominant theory of mind around here, I asked if it was."

      Really? You said and I quote: "Is substance dualism just the effortlessly accepted totally uncriticised order of the day around here?" Is that asking if "I asked if it was [the predominant theory of mind around here]"? No need to reply, I already know the answer. So you are bothered by my "peevishness", boo hoo, cry me a river.

      Delete
    52. @SdP

      "If by “exist” you mean, “is an indivisible single entity” then no, no composite entity exists.

      If by “exist” you mean, “there is really stuff there, although the single label given to it is only an approximation of its true existential nature”, then yes, composite entities exist."

      Buddhists have a distinction between relative and absolute truth: https://encyclopediaofbuddhism.org/wiki/Two_truths_doctrine

      Are you talking of something like that?

      Supose that we could see reality perfectly exactly as it in itself, would we see something similar to the phenomal world we see or something more like just simples in motion?

      Delete
    53. *phenomenal.

      Some materialist like Alex Rosenberg and the Churchlands do seems to adopt something like the Two Truths, something like this:

      Relative truth: separate beings exist, all with diferent natures and caracteristics.

      Absolute truth: there is simples moving and that is it.

      Would you agree with this view or do you think the ontology of the average person is actually pretty close to reality?

      Delete
    54. GabaBee,

      With regard to Stardusty, based on only his last several threads, that is how it look, but if you go back far enough, go to the old classical theism forum, or go to some of the other places linked on there (in which literally hundreds of people took him seriously for thousands of comments over the course of over a half a year), you will see why people are so fed up with him. He seems to consciously play off his knowledge that many readers haven't been around for long enough to see the very long, very earnest attempts to take him seriously.

      The ban is ineffectual because Blogger has no actual ban function. (Someone really ought to to save a serious of links where Ed explicitly bans people in comments and post them alongside "x is banned" comments.)

      I do think Stardusty has improved a little in that he's restraining the amount he posts and not completely inundating every thread, and I hope people here will give him his dues for that and leave open the possibility of further improvement and redemption that doesn't translate to total agreement to all their major views, even where there is no explicit repentance. It's important to not make it so that people can never join one's side because as a result of past transgressions. I take that to be one of the Catholic church's lessons, with its views on forgiveness.

      Delete
    55. @GabaBee:

      Anyone who understands these issues can see just how off most of sdps criticism are. You being new probably can't tell but users here have engaged and dealt with his writing at length just because he is personally unwilling to accept that doesn't change that. The fact that he just keeps repeating himself and makes his writing long enough that no one can possibly keep responding is precisely why he is classified as a troll.

      Delete
    56. I mean do I need to explain how ignorant his response to question of individuality sounds? Just have a look

      "Our intentions are like the intention of a cat to jump on and eat its prey, so the cat stalks, jumps, and adjusts in the act though sense feedback motor control to achieve that intention, the successful kill"

      The guy doesn't even know what these words mean.

      Delete
    57. Why can't all the 'anonymous' on here identify themselves with a unique personal tag , so that it is clear who is who? Surely it is obvious to you all that even a frequent follower of this blog will have difficilty discerning which 'anonymous' is contributing sometimes, so that engaging with any of you and making reference to past posts risks error and confusion.

      Delete
    58. I find it mildly amusing that we're being told this by someone posting under the name Unknown, but never mind.

      To answer your question, some of us are regulars with named accounts and, though we've become relatively inactive, have been since the blog's founding. We simply want to post anonymously. It makes it easier to slip in and out of conversations without being haunted across threads by people incapable of admitting any substantial fault with themselves.

      Delete
    59. In my case there is not a plethora of 'unknowns' who contribute frequently , so absolutely no chance of confusion. If that were the case, and I decide to stay with this blog, I would put the matter right by personalising my account. So , mildly amusing to you or not, there is no real equivalence between the two cases.

      It is of course your right to post anonymously should you wish to do so, but it should be obvious to you that given the number of individuals doing this, it is bound to generate confusion, sometimes even among seasoned followers of the blog, and inhibit effective communication by making it dufficult to refer confidently back to previous posts.

      Delete
    60. It is of course your right to post anonymously should you wish to do so, but it should be obvious to you that given the number of individuals doing this, it is bound to generate confusion, sometimes even among seasoned followers of the blog, and inhibit effective communication by making it dufficult to refer confidently back to previous posts.

      Yes. Well, competing goods, and all that.

      Delete
    61. If StarDusty has such an abhorrant history as a disruptive troll as some of you 'Anonymous' fellows alledge ( one of you is far more charitable than the rest and comes across to me as a much more likeable person, while another seems obnoxious or damaged - apologies, but I cannot easily signal which of you I am refering to as you all fail to clearly identify yourselves ), then why doesn't Feser simply delete his past posts and any new ones as soon as he discovers them, especially as he has apparantly banned StarDusty from the site? This really does require some explanation. Clearly, Feser sees some value in the contributions, even if some others do not.

      Delete
    62. He tried for a while, but it takes a lot of work and he has better things to do with his time.

      Delete
    63. Oh really, how much work can deleting all past posts and new ones upon discovery possibly take?

      Delete
    64. Are you serious? (I don't mean this rhetorically, or in a confrontational way.) Are you familiar with how the Blogger platform works? Have you ever run a relatively popular blog? (If so, imagine running a blog with literally thousands of members.) It takes a lot of time to read through all the posts on here, and it would take even more to go through all past posts. Like I said, Ed (and not just Ed!) has other things to do with his time.

      Delete
    65. It does not seem to me that this blog has very many contributors, indeed there are often far fewer than 100 per post from Feser. Also, he does not need to exhaustively read everything that is written, just glance down to see who the contributors are.So deleting posts from a contributor with a personalised account , in reasonable time and on an ongoing basis, would hardly be arduous ortaxing.

      Deleting all historical posts from a contributor of very long standing would admittedly be more demanding, but is probably not necessary if the objective is to deter further contributions and inhibit others from interacting with them.

      Feser does expend condiderable time and energy on writing posts for this blog, and sometimes replying to comments, so unless he sees some worth in what StarDusty has to say, I still maintain that he would make things more difficult for someone you alledge is an unredeamable ( 'evil' even ) troll , who clogs up threads with drivel and derails discussion, so ruining Fesers efforts to communicate ideas and have them properly discussed.

      Delete
    66. He has commented about how time consuming moderating the blog can be before. It was the reason why he disabled comment moderation in the blog's early days. It's not just that the act is time consuming. It's that it's also a waste of time in virtue of what it is.

      Anyway, you're welcome to go hunt down Ed's own comments about it if you like.

      Delete
    67. T N

      You said: “A non-material atheist is not a contradiction because nothing in the definition of atheism necessarily implies materialism.”

      That is the conclusion to be shown, not a premise to be assumed.


      The definition of atheism is lack of belief in God (gods) or disbelief in god (gods). There is nothing in that definition that necessarily implies materialism. That's a conclusion, not a "premise to be assumed".

      I cannot answer the rest of your questions because I am not claiming non-material reality exists independently of God. I do not know that, and neither do I know whether the concept of immaterial reality makes any sense or not. I am agnostic in that respect.

      Delete
    68. Anonymous at 1.22am.

      We are not talking about meticulous and exhaustive moderation, which would indeed be arduous and time consuming, just deleting in reasonable time the posts of a notorious, irredemable, "evil' troll, who is supposedly clogging up threads with nonesense and derailing conversations, so ruining things for everyone and lessening the value and effectiveness of Feser's creation.

      Delete
    69. This is getting a bit silly. Are you hoping Ed will read your posts to me and change his mind? It's not that hard to find his posts on this and similar subjects.

      Delete
    70. Walter,

      As I've said above, when you try to nail an atheist down to what atheism necessarily entails, they then retreat into the "but atheism just means not believing in God" defense. Again, the claims of atheism have necessary implications whether an atheist wished to avoid them or not.

      Delete
    71. If anyone wants to see how Stardusty hijacks a thread and plugs it up with crap, just look at all the wasted typing above. Stop.

      Delete
    72. Anon number who the heck knows?,
      "It makes it easier to slip in and out of conversations"
      Translation, you are not interested in engaging on the merits of the arguments, you just want to take a couple scattered pot shots and then go hide someplace.

      I only know of one individual posting under the moniker "unknown", which makes it as good as any other assumed name.

      The use of the anon handle indicates the individual is not in a mode of engagement, only shouting.

      Delete
    73. Anonymous 3.30am.

      You have explained Feser's reasons for not intervening, so I do not feel the need to consult his posts, but I find them thoroughly unconvincing. If StarDusty is a genuine problem, rather than a challenge and inconvenience to the closed minded purveyors of a particular world view who inhabit this site , then Feser is complicit in this.

      I think StarDusty that you have Fester's implicit approval here, and should continue to post yout interesting contributions, which clearly shake up and disturb the intellectual closed shop on here!

      Delete
    74. Talmid,
      “Are you talking of something like that? (Buddhist concept of truth)”
      I am not an expert on Buddhist concepts of truth. The great enlightenment, as told in the stories, is that Siddhartha Gautama realized that the root of human suffering is desire. Tibetan Buddhism with their Dalai Lama seems to deviate from the individuality of seeking truth taught by the Buddha, that one should remain skeptical of teachers, even skeptical of the Buddha, and determine for yourself what is and is not true.

      ”Supose that we could see reality perfectly exactly as it in itself, would we see something similar to the phenomal world we see or something more like just simples in motion?”
      I think we would see both the forest and the trees.

      I think we would see that on the smallest scale simples just mindlessly interact with each other, also, those small scale interactions, in some locations in the universe, lead to large scale aggregates of simples doing sorts of things as groups that can be broadly classified as phenomena.

      But it seems as though most of the universe does not aggregate into complex and highly ordered arrangements of simples, rather, the great majority of the universe is a diffuse amorphous soup with very little order, as compared to the cornucopia of order we observe on the surface of our planet (I am referring to dark matter, dark energy, inter stellar gas and dust, as well as spacetime itself).

      Delete
    75. T N
      “Walter,
      As I've said above, when you try to nail an atheist down to what atheism necessarily entails, they then retreat into the "but atheism just means not believing in God" defense. “
      Hasty generalization.

      “Again, the claims of atheism have necessary implications whether an atheist wished to avoid them or not.”
      Agreed. The necessary implications of statement X are not merely the immediate words in statement X. That’s why statements like “I always lie” and “existence itself” are incoherent, not because the immediate words taken at face value are not intelligible words, but because the necessary implications of those words lead unavoidably to self-contradiction.

      I think being an atheist is more than simply not believing there is a god. By that definition a baby is an atheist, and we are all born atheists. Well, fine, I suppose in some sense that is true, but that is rather unhelpful for an adult discussion.

      Atheists have reached a personal conclusion that there is no god. Atheists are personally convinced that god does not exist.

      I am as sure that god does not exist as I am that any idle speculation is not the case, and in particular the Christian god, which is both an idle speculation and demonstrably incoherent.

      Christians often scoff at the flying spaghetti monster and how atheists supposedly just don’t get it and how their god is supposedly such a sophisticated concept warranting the utmost respect while the flying spaghetti monster is just a crude caricature that supposedly only exposes how ignorant atheists are of the great edifice of sound reasoning that is Christianity.

      Nope, the Christian god is just another idle speculation that is no more rational than the flying spaghetti monster, magic unicorns, the monkey god, Casper the friendly ghost, or any other made up speculation story. In fact, the Christian god has so many mutually exclusive traits assigned to it that the Christian god is demonstrably incoherent. Other, simpler speculations, like the flying spaghetti monster, don’t necessarily have all those self-contradictory traits, so can remain non-disprovable idle speculations.

      So, it’s no good, I think, for a rational adult to simply say, “I just don’t believe there is a god but I don’t care about what that necessarily implies upon further reasoning”. Well, one can say that if one wishes, but I don’t think that is the sort of thing a person who claims to be taking philosophical analysis seriously can reasonably say.

      On atheism, I just don’t see how one can reasonably fail to conclude, upon further analysis of its necessary implications, reductionist materialism, and an absence of absolute morality, ultimate meaning, and ultimate purpose.

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    76. T N

      The only thing atheism necessarily entails is not believing in God.
      There are no other necessary implications. Maybe the non-materialist atheist cannot answer certain questions, but that doesn't mean those questions aren't in principle answerable under non-materialist atheism.
      Unless you can show beyond any reasonable doubt that those questions are unanswerable under non-materialist atheism, you are not justified in claiming that certain thing are necessary implications of atheism.
      Now, as I said, I am agnostic about whether immaterial reality makes any sense or not, but if it makes sense, an atheist can hold to it. i can imagine lots of immaterial beings that are not God (s).

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    77. Anonymous August 24, 2020 at 9:45 PM
      "I mean do I need to explain how ignorant his response to question of individuality sounds? "
      Yes.

      What I said makes great sense. If you do not understand the meaning of my words, more's the pity for you.

      Yes, if you are interested in communicating a point you need to explain your specific rational reasons for the point. Incredulity does not suffice.

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    78. Walter,

      I've already given numerous examples above. I don't know what else to say.

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    79. @SdP

      I was not that interested in Buddhism per si, hehe. What i wanted to know was if you, like some materialists, think that the phenomenal word we see is just a "relative truth", or only convention, like Democritus says on his famous part of a dialogue between mind and senses. Your answer seems to me "no".

      "I think we would see both the forest and the trees."

      Yes! I agree, the micro and macro are both real. The thing is that the macro can do a lot of stuff that the micro can't, like, you know, discuss philosophy.

      What is clear is that things are more that the sum of their parts, like a song that is way more that all the noises that feature in. Just like the song has a principle of order* that make all the noises parts of one thing, it seems to me that there is on me or on a water molecule something like that, that makes the matter a thing that is one and has diferent caracteristics. Would you disagree?


      *Notice that the principle of order in the song is a artificial one, where the one everything has is from nature, acidental x substancial form.

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    80. @T N:

      "I've already given numerous examples above. I don't know what else to say."

      I think Walter's argument is sound; I also tend to think that in *practice*, since beliefs do not float in a vacuum but tend to cluster around, a non-materialist atheist is a very unstable position and tends to degenerate either into self-contradiction or no principled rejection of God.

      As I said, I think Walter's argument is sound, but I personally have not seen any good way of navigating between these particular Scylla and Charybdis. But this may well be my own ignorance, so I usually do not press the point.

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    81. StardustyPsyche: By that definition a baby is an atheist, and we are all born atheists.
      Assumes facts not in evidence. It can be shown from the way our brains are constructed that we have to have innate knowledge, but what isn't clear is what that innate knowledge is. Wynn argues that infants have an innate knowledge of addition ("Addition and Subtraction in Infants", Letters to Nature, 8/27/92).

      Caldwell-Harris wrote: Religious Belief Systems of Persons with High Functioning Autism

      Other articles argue that belief in God is innate:
      Scientists discover that atheists might not exist, and that’s not a joke

      People with Asperger's less likely to see purpose behind the events in their lives

      Religious belief is human nature, huge new study claims

      These studies, and others, suggest that atheism is due to a neurological defect, particularly in the area of agency detection.

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  16. Modern physics is quantum mechanical. The founders of modern physics (Heisenberg, Bohr, Born etc...) would also disagree with Greene. They understood that the ontology behind classical physics had been proven wrong by quantum mechanics. Heisenberg understood that physicists must now resign themselves (see below). I think many (maybe most) physicists, even though they use quantum mechanics, are not interested in resigning themselves so continue to try to keep the old classical ontology alive. This of course leads to incoherent arguments.

    “...the natural laws formulated mathematically in quantum theory no longer deal with the elementary particles themselves but with our knowledge about them. Nor is it any longer possible to ask whether or not these particles exist in space and time objectively, since the only processes we can refer to as taking place are those which represent the interplay of particles with some other physical system, e.g., a measuring instrument. Thus, the objective reality of the elementary particles has been strangely dispersed, not into the fog of some new ill-defined or still unexplained conception of reality, but into the transparent clarity of a mathematics that no longer describes the behavior of the elementary particles but only our knowledge of this behavior. The atomic physicist has had to resign himself to the fact that his science is but a link in the infinite chain of man's argument with nature, and that it cannot simply speak of nature "in itself". Science always presupposes the existence of man and, as Bohr has said, we must become conscious of the fact that we are not merely observers but also actors on the stage of life…”

    Werner Heisenberg, The Physicist’s Conception of Nature (London, 1958)

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  17. It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that best option for the sort of naturalist who wants to maintain scientism is to endorse some sort of ontic-structural realism.But of course that is such a different sort of view that proper materialists might not even find it attractive.

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  18. T N,

    Thank you for the welcome. I don't have anything to say about universalism, so I didn't see a need to comment for a while.

    So, as a materialist, how would you have a complete description of a brain that is not exhaustive in physical terms?

    You left out the term "mathematical", but it seems to relevant to Greene's point, and certainly to mine. I accept that the mathematical does not capture everything about the physical/material.

    Your argument about the third part is a dodge as it does not address the point: qualia is not a physical property such as wavelengths, surface reflectance, ect.

    Qualia are just another type of abstraction. Why should one type of abstraction be reducible to the material, while another is not?

    Do the atheists you know think that reincarnation, and ghosts, and ESP have something other than material causes? If so, what are the non-physical causes that somehow don't disqualify the person as an atheist?

    Atheists don't believe in a god/gods/God. That doesn't disqualify things like immortal souls or mental forces.

    But the real question here, One Brow, is this: you are arguing that Feser is wrong. Feser is merely a sum total of physical properties reducible to particle movements. What standard tells you that some particle movements can be “wrong” and other particle movements can be “right”?

    It seems to me that the standards of correctness and incorrectness that you (as a conglomeration of particles) use are largely the same as the standard I use. If you notice a major gap, let me know. Otherwise, I can just appeal tot he standard for correctness that we share.

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    1. One Brow,

      The welcome is only as genuine as your intellectual honesty and sincerity.

      You wish to equivocate on the word “mathematical” when you know that what is at stake is a purely physical explanation of reality. And you decline to give an answer.

      You say qualia is an abstraction. Another play on words as the point of discussion of qualia is to point to and inform consciousness. As I wrote above, you have merely assumed consciousness rather than offer any explanation.

      You say atheists don’t believe in gods. Another way to avoid the question of how immaterial substances exist with intentionality that cannot be called “God”. You, again, decline to answer.

      You say you “can just appeal tot he standard for correctness that we share”. But the whole point is that we don’t “share” a standard on the topic at hand: materialism. So the question remains, by what standard can you claim your opponents are “wrong” when the only reason they have the opinions they do is because some particles zigged instead of zagged? You refuse to answer.

      You have given no answer to any of the questions at hand.

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    2. T N,
      The welcome is only as genuine as your intellectual honesty and sincerity.

      I appreciate your graciousness and genuineness.

      You wish to equivocate on the word “mathematical” when you know that what is at stake is a purely physical explanation of reality. And you decline to give an answer.

      I can appreciate you want to change the argument to discussing a purely physcial explanation of reality. However, my comment was only to illustrate that Feser dishonestly assumed Greene accepted the convesre of his statement. Was Feser equivocating when he said, "But is there anything more to matter than its mathematical structure? Of course there is, because there is no such thing as mathematical structure without some concrete reality that has the structure. "? Feser assumed Greene believed the converse of Greene's statement, and hammered on the term "mathematical" in his response.

      You say qualia is an abstraction. Another play on words as the point of discussion of qualia is to point to and inform consciousness. As I wrote above, you have merely assumed consciousness rather than offer any explanation.

      You explain consciousness in mystic terms. I don't explain it at all. Neither of us truly understands how it arises. Do you disagree with any of that?

      You say atheists don’t believe in gods. Another way to avoid the question of how immaterial substances exist with intentionality that cannot be called “God”. You, again, decline to answer.

      Why do I need to have an answer to this question? I don't personally believe in immaterial substances, and even those that do don't necessarily need to explain where they arise.

      You say you “can just appeal tot he standard for correctness that we share”. But the whole point is that we don’t “share” a standard on the topic at hand: materialism. So the question remains, by what standard can you claim your opponents are “wrong” when the only reason they have the opinions they do is because some particles zigged instead of zagged? You refuse to answer.

      I don't know what a "standard on ... materialism" means.

      Do you agree that, if Person A makes a statement, and Person B assumes Person A believes the converse, that Person B has made an error? If so, by what standard?

      You have given no answer to any of the questions at hand.

      I wasn't trying to answer those questions. I made some fairly simple, straightforward criticisms of Feser's post.

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    3. One Brow,

      See, I'm not going to play this game with you. I'll give you one last chance, then I'll go back to ignoring you like Stardusty. Come up with some answer as to why some particle movement can be "wrong"? Particle movements just exist. What standard tells you they can be "wrong"?

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  19. Why should we assume that what is real must be reducible to physics’ mathematical description of basic particles, if we already know that that description doesn’t capture every aspect of reality in the first place?

    Because Trinitarianism says that the description of the thing both is, and simultaneously is not, the thing.

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    1. What does Trinitarianism have to do with any of this?

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    2. Anonymous: What does Trinitarianism have to do with any of this?

      To answer the question, "why should we assume that what is real must be reducible to [...] description". An orthodox Christian, which Feser is, must affirm that at the bottom of reality, description and thing described are the same thing.

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  20. Greene insists on giving the lower-level story about particles and laws a privileged status, and treating any part of a higher-level story that cannot be reformulated in lower-level terms as merely a useful fiction. But why should we agree with that?

    Because we have to use fiction to describe reality. Consider infinity, i.e. a never-ending process. Infinity doesn't physically exist in nature, and yet it is present in almost all of our descriptions of nature.

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    Replies
    1. "Because we have to use fiction to describe reality."

      That doesn't sound plausible, if we are really describing reality then it can't be fiction that we are discussing.

      "Consider infinity, i.e. a never-ending process. Infinity doesn't physically exist in nature, and yet it is present in almost all of our descriptions of nature."

      That's controversial and very likely false.

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  21. For another thing, why should we not turn the tables and hold instead that it is the higher-level story that tells us the truth about the world, whereas the lower-level story is merely a simplifying abstraction that is useful for certain purposes...

    You should. If you hold to the Church-Turing thesis, then I claim that the question of materialism vs. idealism is undecidable (e.g. here).

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  22. One Brow
    It's not gibberish if it is understood.
    That things CAN be understood is a sign that materialism is false (and quite retarded).

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  23. GabaBee

    Events in my brain continuously generate all my conscious states.
    Is this science or philosophy?

    I resisted that fact bitterly for years
    So you are a brain having a discussion/ disagreement with "itself"?
    You ("brain") "cheat yourself" and then decide to "withold the cheating"?

    just as in my teens I resisted the idea there were contradictions in the Bible
    Why are "contradictions" "bad"? If what exists are only "particles", only its
    various "movements" are "reality".
    What is the "chemical composition" of 'truth'? And of "contradiction"?

    because I wanted a life beyond this one
    Why should "matter in movement" "want" anything?

    I (I think the craving to keep existing is our deepest cognitive bias as Thomas Metzinger has said).
    That "craving" is a "trick" imposed by evolution. Now that you know that you are "only matter", (you have freed yourself of your own imposed "tricking"), why do you care?

    But I think it's the obvious truth and I've found all the alternative models totally unsatisfying.
    Please provide the material basis of "truth".

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    1. Please provide the material basis of "truth".

      λa.λb.a

      That is, truth is the behavior that selects one path over another. It doesn't matter which path, as long as "false" takes the other path and the behavior is consistent within the network.

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    2. UncommonDescent
      “So you are a brain having a discussion/ disagreement with "itself"?”
      Yes, of course, obviously. Don’t you have discussions with yourself? If not you are severely limited relative to the rest of us brains.

      The materialist account is very simple, there is no single point that is you. You are a whole set of dynamic processes distributed throughout a massively parallel network of networks in your brain.

      A conversation with yourself is simply the various subnets of your brain interacting with each other.

      “Why should "matter in movement" "want" anything?”
      For the same reason even relatively simple animals seek out resources. The brain forms internal models of external reality. The sense of want is just an evolved mechanism to drive behavior toward certain abstracted goals.

      The reason we have these internal abstractions for goals and intentions and wants is that such internal abstraction structures are physically possible and they convey a reproductive advantage, that is, survival to reproduction and the reproductive process itself.

      Animals that have wants are more likely to reproduce than animals that don’t want anything. So the animals that don’t want anything die out and the animals that want harmful things die out and the animals that want things beneficial to reproduction do in reality reproduce, on average, preferentially.

      Materialism has coherent accounts for such things, theism does not.

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    3. Stardusty, I'm sorry, but your whole argument is just a set of confusions and fallacies....

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  24. That doesn't sound plausible,...
    Unfortunately, your intuition is mistaken. That's a common, yet woefully unaddressed, problem with philosophers. Nature utterly confounds many of our intuitions.

    if we are really describing reality then it can't be fiction that we are discussing.
    That's not quite what I said. I said that we have to use things that don't physically exist (fiction) to describe things that are (reality). The "fiction" drops out of the equations at the end. With infinity, we either truncate it (e.g. in the case of ��), or we find it converges to a limit, or we use one infinity to cancel another (e.g. renormalization).

    That's controversial and very likely false.
    Fine. Show me infinity in Nature. Length? You can't do it. Planck's limit. Speed? You can't do it. (Speed of light). Distance? You can't do it (the universe is expanding outside your light cone). Time? You can't do it. The heat death of the universe will prevent further motion.

    So, where is it? Point it out.

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    1. Note: 𝜋 is "pi", in case it isn't rendered correctly.

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    2. Is there not an infinity of points on any given line segment AB? The line segment will have a centre, C say, and this will really exist, irrespective of whether we are paying attention to it or not. Likewise AC and CB will have centres irrespective of our awareness of them, and so on with all smaller line segments generated by this process of bisection. To reiterate, all these 'centres' are there independently of our awareness, and there surely are an infinity of them, assuming the continuity of space.

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  25. @Unknown:

    "To reiterate, all these 'centres' are there independently of our awareness, and there surely are an infinity of them, assuming the continuity of space."

    This is just begging the question.

    Not that wrf3's arguments make any sense, they don't.

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    1. grodrigues: Not that wrf3's arguments make any sense, they don't.
      So provide external empirical evidence for infinity. Show that it physically exists, that it isn't more than a convenient fiction.

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    2. @wrf3:

      Please, pay attention to what I said instead of what you imagine I said. I did not say that infinity is instantiated in nature or is anything more than a useful fiction, I said your arguments "don't make any sense", they are the provenance of a crank.

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  26. Unknown: Is there not an infinity of points on any given line segment AB?
    In theory, yes. In practice, well, that's the question, isn't it? You can't physically demonstrate an infinity of points, since you can't infinitely subdivide a line. You'll hit the Planck limit in one direction; you'll run out of time in another.

    all these 'centres' are there independently of our awareness,
    That's a bizarre statement. If you aren't aware of them, how do you know they exist?

    assuming the continuity of space
    I didn't ask you to assume it. I asked you to show it. External empirical evidence.

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