Friday, January 16, 2009

Cartesian dualism, ii

I’ve yet to find a good philosophical argument against such substantial dualisms as (for the commonest) that our psychology results from the interaction of spiritual souls with the physical brains in which (so to speak) they’re incarnated. The two commonest arguments are (i) asserting the closure of the physical and (ii) failing to see how the spiritual could interact with the physical. Both are clearly fallacious as I’ve stated them, but I’ve yet to find a substantially fuller, non-fallacious expression of either. Now, I’ve blogged on (i) already, and have little to say about either anyway, but I’ve just been reading Lowe (Erkenntnis 65, 5–23), who put (ii) as follows (2006: 7, 11):
[...] according to Descartes, whereas the mind has beliefs, desires, and volitions, but no shape, size, or velocity, the body has shape, size, and velocity, but no beliefs, desires, or volitions. [...] it is often complained that it is completely mysterious how an unextended, non-physical substance could have any causal impact upon the body – the presumption being, perhaps, that any cause of a physical event must either be located where that event is, or at least be related to it by a chain of events connecting the location of the cause to the location of the effect.
As put, the problem seems to be one of mere conceptual possibility, which is easily answered. By typing into your keyboard you can make virtual beings move about in cyberspace. Clearly you don’t have to be where they are, in cyberspace, to be able to move them about. So it isn’t so very mysterious how such things are possible. And even if it were, why presume that would be a problem for dualism, rather than a personal failing?
......As Lowe notes, people said that Newtonian action-at-a-distance was completely mysterious, and maybe it was, and is, but there was hardly any argument there against Newtonian physics (except in the minds of some philosophers). The truth turned out to be far weirder again, and it was to be had by working through Newtonian physics. There is that other problem, of how exactly the interaction works, but the way towards answering that is the relatively hard way of science, and why should it not go through Cartesian dualism?
......My analogy only worked because of the causal link between your fingers moving on the keyboard and the consequent virtual motion (as expressed in actual space on the screen), which goes via continuous paths in space (if we include force-fields in our ontology), but still, it did work. It suggests that a possible Cartesian response is to give the body, not only a spatial location, but also another, non-spatial location, at which the soul acts. How plausible is that? In the natural theistic context of Cartesian dualism, it’s very plausible, since God created space, and is himself located elsewhere.
......And suppose that Cartesian dualism is false. Then there’s some other true theory of mind. Somehow the physical brain, which changes its form and its atomic constituents continually, is associated with a subjective unit (the mind, which we know directly), which is continuously the same person. So if there could be a non-Cartesian theory, then there’s some way of associating with the physical brain a unique continuant of some sort. It is only to that that the Cartesian theory has to associate a soul. And a very simple and natural (in the Cartesian context) way to do that would be by divine stipulation, God associating each such brain-correlate with a unique soul.
......In many ways that’s far simpler and more natural than the sort of Humean regularity approach to scientific laws that philosophers are often led to by considering how mysterious are nomological necessities (a consideration that most scientists rightly ignore). If souls are possible, then they would have individual existences, in some logical space (say heaven), and would interact in some way (say via spiritual bodies). And if so then matter would’ve been created to be such as could be used in such ways (for some reason). The details are for scientific discovery, but the mere possibility is not really so mysterious.

41 comments:

Ron Murphy said...

Why bother with dualism? It is used simply to as an explanation (a model) of the mind that is more in tune with spiritualism, the soul and God - the supernatural. Without that motivation there would probably be far fewer objections to physicalism.

"...it is completely mysterious how an unextended, non-physical substance could have any causal impact upon the body..." - There's no mystery. It's all in the mind.

Your keyboard + virtual being pretty much sums up the situation. You type into your keyboard, signals travel down the wire and are interpreted by a program designed to present 2-D changing images on screen, which your brain construes to be a virtual being because your brain interprets it that way. Nothing more complicated than that.

And it's the same for God, the soul, the dualist mind. They are fictions, abstractions. The dualist mind is just one more hypothetical model, on a par with comic humunculi (e.g. The Numbskulls).

I'd be interested to know what you make of these:
http://hedweb.com/bgcharlton/awconlang.html
http://hedweb.com/bgcharlton/damasioreview.html

Enigman said...

Hi Ron, yours is a fair enough position, I think, as is mine (of course:) I bother with dualism because my notion of the physical is such that it's just inconceivable to me how I could be physical. I get evolution; and even Searle's biological Naturalism, and Chalmer's property dualism. It's all fair enough. But my experience of the physical just leads me to reject it. So my dualism is based on my real world experiences, more than anything. Having said that, dualism makes a lot more sense if there's a God, I think; for lots of reasons, which relate to the following (from Ramblings):

Discussions about the 'probability' of any of these possible ideas, and in this context that there might or might not be a God, are metaphysical speculations and have no mathematical basis to take them any further. In order to calculate probabilites about God's existence we need information we just don't have.

I want to discuss that with you; but I've got to rush now...

Ron Murphy said...

ok, be glad to.

Enigman said...

Hi again; on probability, I distinguish between epistemic probability, or how likely some thought is to correspond with reality, and quantum-mechanical probability, which I regard as part of nature. The latter needs maths, because its part of a mathematical model, but I don't see why the former does. Philosophers seem to encounter all sorts of problems applying the mathematical theory to it. There is a mathematical theory (or rather, a family of related theories) of probability, based on epistemic probabilities -(it was devised in the days when scientists thought of the world as deterministic)- but I find it rather idealised.

Consider tossing a coin. If it seems like it will be a fair toss, then we won't have any evidence to prefer heads or tails, so we say the probability of each is 50%. And the physical probabilities will probably be close to that too. But that last "probably", for all that it's epistemic, was a bit vague. The word just means that given all I know, that seems more likely than not. I don't need much of a mathematical theory for that. Some philosophers would now give the number 0 to both P and not-P, in a situation where we have no information to go on. The reason we go towards the precision of 50% is that we've a lot of background information about coin-tosses. But even so, 50.0000...% is unrealistic. And I suspect that there just is no exact figure. Each of us with have slightly different relevant evidence to go on, and none of us will be able to reflect upon it perfectly.

I think that such informal uses of "probably" are inevitable, even when working with scientific theories, and precise probabilities. We think that the equipment has probably been set up properly, or that we've probably allowed for all (or almost all) of the most significant factors, and so on. And it's that informal sense that crops up in Bayesian arguments for theism, such as Swinburnes, I think. Swinburne did just pluck figures like 50% from nowhere, which struck me as a bit off in an academic book; but in his defence, that is how we talk about informal probabilities.

But much of that is just what I think, based on very little evidence (just a few books), so I was wondering what you think of that (if I've expressed myself clearly, which I may not've done as I'm in a rush again today:)

Ron Murphy said...

Hi,

Yes, I agree with much of what you say. But I do think it completely wrong to use the 50% 'notion' of probability in the context of the existence of God simply because we know absolutely nothing, on either side of the debate.

What's the chance of winning the UK national lottery jackpot, or not winning it? We know how it works, so we can put a figure on it. Putting a 50% figure (however vaguely it is meant) on the existence of God is like saying that in playing the lottery you have only two possibilities, either you win or you don't, therefore the probability is 50/50.

Now God does exist, or he does not - so we're not talking about the probability of him existing, we're talking about the probability that we are correct in saying he exists or he does not. From Wikipedia on Bayesian probability - "According to the Bayesian probability calculus, the probability of a hypothesis given the data (the posterior) is proportional to the product of the likelihood times the prior probability (often just called the prior). The likelihood brings in the effect of the data, while the prior specifies the belief in the hypothesis before the data was observed." - the phrase "the prior specifies the belief" being significant.

Now the prior is arbitrary - since for the atheist there is no prior belief either way, and for the theist any belief based on evidence (scripture, Jesus, Muhammad, etc.) is posterior (hence why atheist say faith is blind faith). The posterior is non-existent either way - certainly absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, which some atheists mistakenly claim, and which some theists mistakenly attribute to all atheists. Therefore probabilities are meaningless. It's far more honest to say simply that we do not know.

The position of the atheist then is to say, ok, we don't know about the existence of God, but we can say something about other theistic claims. First, all of those claims presuppose God (e.g. if you knew there was no God how would you interpret claims about the resurrection?). Second, all of those additional claims can be explained by natural, non-supernatural, non-divine processes. So the atheist concludes, not that there is absolutely no God (I think we don't have the capacity to access absolute knowledge), but that there is no evidence of God, and certainly no evidence that supports claims made by the various religions (e.g. the Catholic opposition to contraception and the Islamic opposition to apostasy - neither can be shown to have divine backing).

I find no evidence for God, and so personally live my life as if he does not exists. But I do oppose some public statements made by atheists. I think the recent UK bus campaign would have been justified in saying there is no evidence of God, and it would have made the atheistic reason for dis-belief clearer. In saying that there probably is no God it implies atheists have some information that they do not possess.

Steven Law, in his blog, often implies he can prove God does not exists, his favourite ploy being the God of Eth. Though that argument demonstrates the problem with theistic claims about an all good God, it does nothing to prove the non-existence of God.

That summarises my position. It's also the reason why I have no objection to theism as such, nor to religious tradition. My objection is that, for too long, religions have dominated society and imposed their beliefs upon believers and unbelievers alike. So, my intent is to show why many religious prescriptions or proscriptions, such as the Catholic and Islamic ones above, have no good reason behind them. Where religion does not try to impose its rules on the rest of us I've no objection to it - each religion is just another club. I object only to its undue influence - just as I would object to a Masonic handshake winning undue favour or influence.

I also accept that religion can do some good, even it's only a placebo effect. See the paragraph beginning "Her ability to hold mutually inconsistent beliefs..." in this link:
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/rama08/rama08_index.html

Enigman said...

Thanks. I think you're absolutely right about a lot of religious proscriptions, and prescriptions; as would a lot of theists these days (stupid ones maybe not, but then stupidity's a problem whatever). While religions like to sort out their own problems (just like any social group), agnostics (by any name) can lend a lot of level-headedness.

You begin by saying that we know absolutely nothing, but a lot of people think that they have reasonable grounds for their beliefs. I would try to distinguish actually reasonable grounds from grounds that seem reasonable just because one believes. Upbringing and other social habits and prejudices might fall under the latter. I think that Swinburne was addressing the former. Actually reasonable grounds such as personal experience, and testimony that's believed on rational grounds (e.g. most of that of most scientists and historians in their professional capacities) are of course held by people on a personal basis, so there is inevitably a mixing of the two kinds. There's little evidence that's purely of the former kind about anything, I think.

Swinburne's 50% for the likelihood of God, i.e. the chance that his God would make a world like this, does seem to come from thin air. But a bettr theodicy would raise that figure and make it less vague.

God does exist or not, but either way it would be a metaphysical necessity (on the traditional view), so we're talking about an epistemic possibility; but the prior isn't arbitrary, only vague. In science we might consider hypotheses with intuitively similar priors, so that we can effectively ignore them , but that would be vague rather than arbitrary. And if all our hypotheses proved inadequate, we'd consider less likely hypotheses (i.e. those with lower informal priors, although no figures would ever be given) that fitted the evidence (i.e. that had high likelihoods).

You can see something like that at work in belief change. Theists worry about evil and prejudice and then one day just notice that there's this atheistic hypothesis, quite seperate from satanism (and maybe Hegelian). Or atheists worry about mind and meaning and then one day just notice that there's this theistic hypothesis, quite seperate from church dogma (and maybe Hegalian). Either way, working through the details takes each one further into where the other one had started from.

Priors could come from genetics, if we're predisposed to look for personal explanations, or to think of the world as all there is, etc. They would be irrational, but they would be there, with some vague magnitude. The point is to think about it, of course. Then it's a tricky question what the priors should be. I would say that the prior probability of a God is quite high. We know that people are possible. That's 100% (since rationality outlaws Solipsism). And things that are symmetrical and unlimited tend to stand less in need of explanation, and so have relatively high priors.

The evidence is largely personal though, How convincing a theodicy is is a personal matter. And whether or not your experiences are compatible with physicalism is a personal matter. So some people have little evidence, and others have quite a lot. An absurd problem, as I see it, is that amongst the former are lots of noisy theists, and amongst the latter, I suspect, quite a few atheists. Ah well...

Ron Murphy said...

Hi,

"lot of people think that they have reasonable grounds for their beliefs" - Thinking they have doesn't mean they have. I've yet to see any grounds that are reasonable. They all presuppose God, or are based on some information we do not have.

I'm not a fan of Swinburne the Gullible:

Principle of Credulity - with the absence of any reason to disbelieve it, one should accept what appears to be true (e.g., if one sees someone walking on water, one should believe that it is occurring, unless one is under the influence of a hallucinogen).

Well, no. One should ask why the event 'appears' to be conflicting with natural laws. One should be sceptical and investigate. "amazing claims require amazing evidence" is a far better principle.

Principle of Testimony - with the absence of any reason to disbelieve them, one should accept that eye-witnesses or believers are telling the truth when they testify about religious experiences.

Why? Under the principles of Credulity and Testimony one should believe all UFO sightings to be what many of them are reported to be - evidence of aliens. These are not reasonable principles.

God's existence is necessary, if and only if he exists, and his non-existence is necessary only if he does not exist. The usual arguments for necessity are bogus. Our knowledge one way or the other is non-existent. It's our 'claim' about knowledge of his existence or non-existence that is arbitrary. There's nothing vague about the claim - theists are certain God exists.

I agree that there is movement in positions, but most of the movement is one way. In the past, pre-science, theism was able to claim pretty much anything, so much so that much of the Bible could be passed off as literal. As science has progressed and shown many of the literal claims to be nonsense theism has had to adapt. This change also applies to science too - but the benefit of science is that this progress is expected, whereas with theism it's a challenge.

Priors may come from genetics, but until we discover them we don't know that and certainly don't know what prior probability to assign, and when we do discover them they become posteriors. Scientists can sometimes say they think that some outcome is 'probable' in a vague way, but that is often based on how earlier investigations have proceeded. But in the matter of God we have no experience - we have experience of claims, but we have never had a single positive result than can be verified. Suppose we had evidence that some other worlds were created, each by its own God; we might then be justified in saying a God probably created this one. But that's not the case. We have no prior experience of what is required to create a universe. We have no knowledge, only speculations.

"The evidence is largely personal though..." - The evidence for theism is entirely personal - i.e. entirely internal mental state driven, the only external input coming from other internal mental states. There is no external evidence that stands up to scrutiny. Certainly if one wants to make claims about the quality of evidence that is the Bible then one must attribute the literary sources of other faiths with the same quality - such as the Quran. But the religions on which they are based are contradictory. In what other field would such sources be given the same weight as religious sources are in theism?

"And whether or not your experiences are compatible with physicalism is a personal matter." - Your interpretation of your perceptions of your experiences is a personal matter - it's what you make of them. But your actual experiences are becoming more and more open to third part invistigation. There is increasing evidence that mental states are determined by the physical brain. Not only that, but there are many examples (see the Rama link from previous comment) where changes to the physical brain can make drastic changes to the mental state, to the extent that mystical and spiritual experiences can be induced. There is no way to distinguish a supernatural spiritual experience from a delusion.

"So some people have little evidence, and others have quite a lot." - If you mean some people have a lot of evidence for the existence of God can you direct me to them? Swinburne isn't one. His principles above should be enough to dissuade anyone from that idea.

Enigman said...

Hi Ron, re your first point, there's really little to say either way. Your not seeing their grounds only makes you unable to judge them. If you assume that there are no objectively good grounds, then you can apply all you do know to conclude that they're probably wrong, if not irrational. And you can of course conclude that there are no such grounds, from what you know. But then someone who bases her belief in a flat earth on what she can clearly see (and her faith in her eyesight from her usual visual successes, day to day) can do the same with scientific evidence that the earth is a sphere, just by not being clever enough to understand science. Now, it's not that your're not clever enough to understand theology. But you would, were theism true, be epistemically challenged in some way (e.g. maybe you're under the influence of Satan:), just as my hypothetical flat-earther is epistemically challenged if (or rather, since) science is right. Note that my last "since" is only there because I personally believe in most applicable science.

I've my doubts about Swinburene's epistemology too; although much greater doubts about every other systematic epistemology that I've come accross. Re your reason for rejecting the Principle of Credulity, you have applied it to the basic evidence upon which your belief in the scientific description of the natural laws is based. In that sense, the Principle is pretty unassailable. Furthermore, scientific laws apply to what is naturally occuring, not to transcendent acts (e.g. the laying down of those laws in the first place). I agree about scepticism and agnosticism. It's how I got into thinking in the first place. Too many theists probably take Swinburne's principle the wrong way, and think it's there to justify any old belief that they like. But the principle speaks of truth, not liking. And furthermore, what is amazing evidence to one, and upon which one could rationally base one's own beliefs, isn't much like what is amazing in the public sphere. The connection between those two is actually quite complex, I think. To start with, in an evil Empire (of which there've been a lot) one ought to base one's beliefs on what one knows for oneself, if one is rational, not upon what is public (or worse, official) knowledge. But even if we know (how?) that we're not in such a state, there's the complexities of getting the balance right. Sometimes one should let the rigorous nature of science overrule one's direct knowledge, but sometimes one just has access to more information.

The UFO analogy is a good one, but then there's the Emperor's New Clothes too. We should trust the evidence of our own eyes, even when the experts are all busy sucking up to those who pay them (as when the Gospels were being written). Amazing claims do require amazing evidence, but if your best friend sees a UFO while sober (and isn't mad etc.) then one suddenly wants evidence that discriminates between UFOlogists, the probably right and the probably wrong.

I'm not sure that all theists are certain that God exists, although most of them seem to think that they ought to trust that he does, to accept that and act as though he does. The object of their propositional belief is a person, and they believe they owe him loyalty if he exists. Analogous might be a husband who owes his wife loyalty, who therefore thinks that he requires exceptionally good evidence against her word, before he begins to doubt it.

But in the matter of God we have no experience - we have experience of claims, but we have never had a single positive result than can be verified.

But similarly, in the matter of whether or not the hands with which I'm typing this (which are clearly in that sense real) are substantially ten-dimensional superstrings (as many physicists believe), or ideas in the mind of God (as many Idealists believe), or the dream of some Transreal me (as many epistemologists try to prove they can't be)--and so forth--we have no experience. A priori the possibility of theism is on a par with the possibility of atheism; we have only claims. And Swinburne is imperfect, but so is Dawkins. We have evidence for the claims of the physicists, that my hands are full of quarks and such, but we also have evidence for the claims of the theologians, that my hands were actualised by, and from a metaphysically necessary possibility in the mind of, God. The former don't claim to know all about quarks, but they do claim that they're (probably) real; and the latter hardly claim to know all about God, but do claim that he's (or they're) Real, in some sense. That sense naturally goes beyond the ordinary, but then so do ten dimensions and quantum mechanics.

changes to the physical brain can make drastic changes to the mental state, to the extent that mystical and spiritual experiences can be induced. There is no way to distinguish a supernatural spiritual experience from a delusion.

Some atheists think that such evidence is evidence against religion. But it's been well known for a while that a blow to the head can change a person's character, and that upbringing can influence it, and that genetics can. And in a dream we're aware of an entire world around us that isn't real. Theists believe that there are ways, but that those ways are not the same as the ways in which we would rationally investigate the physical properties of the objects that appear to exist around us. Why on earth should they be? But it's time for tea now, so I'll leave that there... My overall point is, I think, not that all my points are the final word (as I say, I value your active agnosticism), but that the question of how probability applies to theism is as complex as that of how it applies everywhere else (and that that's complex:)

Ron Murphy said...

Hi,

I don't presume they are wrong. I have considered many of the arguments and found them wanting. The only presuppositions I have are concerned with what we can know given the fallible nature of humans. If you want discuss a specific claim I'd be glad to.

"but sometimes one just has access to more information" - How do you know that? This is crucial. If a theist thinks he has access to knowledge to some information how can he verify that he has in fact got that knowledge? This extra information always comes about from internal mental states of the individual, and nothing more. It is not confirmed by any other means.

Claims made in any other sphere are subject to critical scrutiny using some combination of the tools that are part of the scientific method - the combination being most important when trying to verify extraordinary claims. To put this in perspective I'd rank claims about events and knowledge in the following increasing order:

1) Personal thought alone - can mirror the external world but can also be fanciful: fairies, God, etc..
2) Personal thought supported by like minded thoughts of others - comparing ideas.
3) Personal thought plus perception of external events.
4) 3 + like minded thoughts of others + perception by others = comparing ideas and evidence.
5) Systematic recording and group examination of 3 and 4 - e.g. law court (which may also make use of results from 6.
6) All previous plus scientific testing - reproduced results, variable constraint, using different methods, attempts to falsify, etc.

Most of us live most of our time in 1 to 4, which is fine for everyday life. If, as an individual, you want to convince someone else of something you believe to be true, the further down the list you can go the more convincing you will be.

Religion has all its original content derived from 1, and doesn't get beyond 2. There are claims about 3 and 4 made by some religions, but they relate to the distant past, and given the extraordinary nature of the claims you'd want at least 5, and preferably 6. A six on any religious claim would be pretty convincing. Note that the Bible isn't a 3 or 4, it's a 2 that's been written down.

"We should trust the evidence of our own eyes, even when the experts are all busy sucking up to those who pay them (as when the Gospels were being written)." - Not quite. You should have sufficient confidence in your own eyes to induce scepticism. It's where you go from there that matters. In the case of the Emperor you should talk to more people, particularly those with no direct interest, and devise, carry out and publicise tests that support your claim and falsify the Emperor's courtiers claims. And you should not hide results that falsify your own view, should the Emperor's clothes really turn out to be invisible. So, I'm an atheist despite being brought up as a Christian, not just because I thought the Emperor had no clothes, but because I took that doubt, that scepticism, and looked for further evidence. I found nothing convincing, and eventually read and talked enough around the subject to be convinced to the extent I've already described. But, having learned enough about human fallibility, even group fallibility, I keep an open mind.


"...and so forth--we have no experience." - I agree. But then I'm not picking any one of those hypotheses, claiming it to be true, and basing my moral life around it, or building a religion on it, and I'm certainly not using it to coerce others into behaving in ways I think are morally acceptable. As I said, I'm fine with the concept of God as a speculative hypothesis, but not with where most religions take that.

"A priori the possibility of theism is on a par with the possibility of atheism; we have only claims." - No and yes. A priori the opposing claims about the existence of God are on a par, not the possibility. The possibility is already determined, we just don't know which way it is. I agree we have only our claims. But, having said that, I'm not claiming God does not exist. I acknowledge this limitation in our capacity to know that. I am saying that the theist is not in the position to claim God does exist, just as I am not in the position to claim he does not. I merely (but significantly) say I see no evidence, so I'm not going to live my life as if he does, just as I don't live my life as if Islam has the truth, that Jesus claims are true, that my star sign determines my fate, that the possibility of being abducted by UFO's is immanent, that it's Friday 13th today and something tragic is going to happen to me, etc. There are lots of potential beliefs that I could have, but since I don't find any evidence for them I don't live my life as if they are true.

"And Swinburne is imperfect, but so is Dawkins." - Big difference. Swinburne is making a claim he can't substantiate. Dawkins isn't. Despite the appearance, Dawkins holds the same view as I do, that there is not evidence for God, that he can't prove God does not exist, and that he lives his life as if God doesn't exist. As I said before, I don't necessarily agree with the terms in which he expresses that view - in The God Delusion he discards the probability idea, but he does use that term sometimes. Dawkins also uses the term 'fact' but not in an absolute way - he 'defines' a scientific fact as one that has been most thoroughly establish so far.

"We have evidence for the claims of the physicists, that my hands are full of quarks and such, but we also have evidence for the claims of the theologians, that my hands were actualised by, and from a metaphysically necessary possibility in the mind of, God." - No. The physicists recognise the limitations of their knowledge. If you ask one to show you a quark he will clearly say he can't. He will say he can show you some experiments and some maths that strongly support the case for quarks. The theologians have no evidence - claims from metaphysical necessity are bogus (we can discuss if you wish); "metaphysically necessary possibility" - I'm not sure what that means. What is a necessary possibility? If it's a necessity then it's far more than possible it's actual, but if it's only a possibility it's not necessary. Would you like to cover this in more detail?


"...hardly claim to know all about God, but do claim that he's (or they're) Real, ..." - I'd say many theologians claim to know a heck of a lot more about a God they have no evidence for. They are never too slow to say what God wants from us, what is right and wrong according to him.

"...in some sense. That sense naturally goes beyond the ordinary, ..." - Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, yet they have none. You have said a few times that theists have evidence, but you then offer only their claims. That's not evidence. Would you like to discuss some specific examples of theological evidence?

"...but then so do ten dimensions and quantum mechanics." - Yes, quite. But proponents don't claim it to represent the truth. It's a model used to describe reality in certain terms that might lead eventually to a better understanding. I'm quite happy considering God to be a possible explanatory model that created our universe, but it's entirely speculative, and that model tends to stop all further study.

"Theists believe that there are ways, but that those ways are not the same as the ways in which we would rationally investigate the physical properties of the objects that appear to exist around us." - Then how do you know these claims are meaningful? You can't even establish there is anything other than the physical. Again, simply believing you have access to the truth is no better than believing you are Napoleon. Further evidence is required.

"Why on earth should they be?" - They don't have to be, but if there is no way of confirming of falsifying these claims, and there is no observable divine effect, then what's to distinguish these claims from any crazy claim? How do you distinguish between a theistic claim and a delusion? And, with no apparent effect, what's the point of believing it?

"And in a dream we're aware of an entire world around us that isn't real." - Current ideas proposed by brain scientists suggest dreams consist of brain activity, just without the perceptual input from the senses. When awake the senses act as feedback to brain, providing confirmations and controls on brain activity. When that feedback is not present the brain is on a free ride with the existing patterns it has, performing functions that aid learning and memory consolidation. Ideas about dreams proposed by theologians hark back to the dark ages - these are supernatural mythical ideas without any substantiating evidence.

I value this discussion too. What I'm really struggling with is the notion that theists have access to some other way of knowing that need not be subject to normal methods of investigation. "...we also have evidence for the claims of the theologians..." - I'd really like to pursue examples.

Enigman said...

Sorry for the delay replying: I use public libraries for internet access, and at the moment I've been busy elsewhere. I'm going to copy your last comment and read it when I get back home, and then respond the next time I'm in town. I'm particularly interested in this question because I had what I regard as a sign, which made me move from agnosticism to theism (and so to thinking about the problem of evil), and am well aware that I could've misinterpretted what I saw (whence I tend to not mention it).

Ron Murphy said...

Hi,

OK, no problem, but thanks for letting know.

Regards,
Ron

Enigman said...

If a theist thinks he has access to knowledge to some information how can he verify that he has in fact got that knowledge? This extra information always comes about from internal mental states of the individual, and nothing more. It is not confirmed by any other means.

But most of our knowledge is uncertain. Pure maths might be an exception, if it’s construed formalistically, except that there’s still the Cartesian sceptical scenarios (a demon might have fooled one, or one might be mad, or just careless; indeed, the latter is quite likely for higher maths). At the other extreme there are aesthetes (wine-tasters, film-critics, art-historians) whose opinions one could dismiss very easily (I do), but even so some evidence for the soundness of their opinions comes from the coherence with the opinions of others around them.

And then, even less rigorous (but more common), there are the lovers, the fans, the patriots. A patriot can’t usually verify that her country isn’t bad, and maybe a country picked at random is likely to be bad. Her authoritative, official information might look similarly good whether he country was good (and honest) or bad (and lying). She can keep an open mind, but it’s not like she’s got many options when the chips are down. It’s a different sort of information to scientific information. I’m thinking of Martin Luther and his reformation rather than rejection of the Church. Is it better to just not get involved? Marxists face a similar problem with respect to the Party, so it’s not just a theistic problem.

There are claims about 3 and 4 made by some religions, but they relate to the distant past, and given the extraordinary nature of the claims you'd want at least 5, and preferably 6. A six on any religious claim would be pretty convincing. Note that the Bible isn't a 3 or 4, it's a 2 that's been written down.

I agree; I want 5, but 6 is actually impossible, and to want it is like wanting to see directly the laws of nature, rather than just their effects (and of course, we only really know for sure the patches of colour). But I’m wondering, why presume that the Gospels aren’t 3 and 4? There would have to be a pretty big conspiracy behind it being a 2 that’s been written down, rather than an ancient and hence flawed 3 and 4, given all the martyrdoms and such, no?

Maybe the wise old Roman empire wasn’t as stupid as it led people to believe, and it chose to survive (indeed, to spread) via the Holy Roman Empire. I always thought that its leaders seemed a bit cynical about the gods of its masses. But then, such extraordinary theories require extraordinary evidence. The simplest theory is a 3 and 4 (plus the usual messiness about testimony, that one finds in pubs and courts).

I agree about wanting 3 and 4 now, not in the distant past, but the obvious problems with that are sociological. Who would not keep such conversations as private as possible, given how they might be taken, by so many rich crazies? To seek out 3 and 4 one might have to be more than just a passive agnostic.

In the case of the Emperor you should talk to more people, particularly those with no direct interest, and devise, carry out and publicise tests that support your claim and falsify the Emperor's courtiers claims.

That’s sort of what the early Christians did, though (by the standards of the day), by all (ordinary) accounts.

I'm an atheist despite being brought up as a Christian, not just because I thought the Emperor had no clothes, but because I took that doubt, that scepticism, and looked for further evidence. I found nothing convincing, and eventually read and talked enough around the subject to be convinced to the extent I've already described. But, having learned enough about human fallibility, even group fallibility, I keep an open mind.

I appreciate that, since that’s pretty much where I imagine that I would be without my sign (if that’s what it was) that there was indeed something more. Even with it, I’ve thought of lots of alternative explanations for it. The atheistic explanations of religious beliefs, for example, could all apply to me and my sign. But upon reflection they seem no more convincing than Humean doubts about gravity etc. I have to live my life by what I have. If I’m an evolved team of cells, why shouldn’t I get things wrong? In fact, I can hardly account for the validity of my passion for the truth except by supposing there’s more than just the physical.

But anyway, life is to be lived, not studied (for all the importance of truth), whether or not theism is true. By analogy, we’re political animals, and we often ought at least to vote, and yet we can hardly ever get enough reliable evidence, to base our decision (on who to vote for) upon. The evidence all fits together in various ways. And it’s not just when one votes, but lots of other daily decisions too, many of which affect the sort of evidence that you will get (e.g. which papers to read). And a big difference between theism and atheism is that the former involves a personal relationship to a VIP... that’s not a reason for you to treat theism any different to any other hypothesis, but it is a reason why you shouldn’t expect theism to act like atheism if it was true.

It therefore makes a difference to the details of how one assesses the two hypotheses, as an agnostic; if not to how one lives one’s life, surrounded by all sorts of crazy-sounding hypotheses. I wonder though, if there was only the one crazy hypothesis, would one (should one) then believe (or at least accept) it? Since most of us should defer to authority on a lot of important matters, I think one should accept the one crazy hypothesis. I would not, I would question it; but doing so would make me look like the weirdo, and I would find it impossible to justify my doubts, to find evidence for my extraordinary infidelity. I find it hard even to show that pure maths is based upon a daft idea, and all the relevant evidence there is a priori.

The physicists recognise the limitations of their knowledge. If you ask one to show you a quark he will clearly say he can't. He will say he can show you some experiments and some maths that strongly support the case for quarks.

But similarly, theologians won’t say they can show you God, only evidence that the world is his creation. Their evidence is more like historical and philosophical evidence than scientific or mathematical evidence, but still; how much of the latter kind isn’t based on some degree of evidence of the former kind? To be non-Humean is to be philosophical, and to act upon (rather than test everything within) a textbook is to act upon (recent) historical evidence. And furthermore the theologian, more so than the physicist, has a social responsibility, which involves requiring a higher degree of evidence before putting forward a new hypothesis. But you know, scientists work within conventional models that have social inertia, and which are believed to be factual by the masses, so the differences shouldn’t be exaggerated.

And then there’s the language thing. Are physicists just using the language of electrons to study electrical properties? Most of them believe in electrons, if not in superstrings. Why do they draw that line? It’s for fuzzy, human reasons. And the masses believe in each sort of object for worse reasons. Similarly theologians and souls and moral facts on the one hand, and saints and miracles on the other, so far as I can tell; with the masses again being messier, and the main difference with science being not about evidence but about social role. E.g. the physicists want some profitable new technology, the theologians some lovelier fellow creatures (although lots of people want lots of things, of course).

"metaphysically necessary possibility" - I'm not sure what that means. What is a necessary possibility? If it's a necessity then it's far more than possible it's actual, but if it's only a possibility it's not necessary. Would you like to cover this in more detail?

There’re a lot of details, and the authorities disagree quite a lot about them, so I’d need a more specific problem before I ventured many details. But basically, possibilities are broadly epistemic or metaphysical. The former are things like, it’s possible that the coin will come up heads, which you could think even in a deterministic world. Such possibilities (based on ignorance) were what the founders of probability theory worked with. The latter are things like, it’s possible that the radioactive atom will decay during its next half-life. That’s also a physical possibility.

Some say that physical possibilities are epistemic, but following Heisenberg and Popper I say that some (those of QM) are metaphysical. A non-epistemic and non-necessary possibility that wasn’t physical either would be hard to find in a purely physical universe. But if we had souls then they might include our free choices.

Sometimes we take such possibilities to include the improper case of necessity, but hardly ever the improper case of impossibility (corresponding to probabilities of 1 and 0 respectively under some theories of probability). If we do that, then all necessities are possible (rather than impossible), and a metaphysically necessary possibility might be an unproven mathematical theorem that happened to be true. That would also be a proper (uncertain) epistemic possibility.

By ‘metaphysically necessary possibility’ I usually mean the latter (the context should make it clear, unless I’m being forgetful), an epistemic possibility (one of some conventional range, ordinarily), with the qualifier being there to avoid anyone going on and on about how it’s not possible but necessarily either certain or impossible, with which one it is depending upon whether or not they believed in the possibility (a habit I’ve picked up since looking at theology).

More important, I think, is the way in which epistemic probability is not really a probability in the sense of the probability theories of maths. It’s defined in terms of the strengths of rational beliefs, based on our evidence, but that’s too idealised to be about our actual beliefs. Real epistemic probabilities are fuzzier than that. The mathematical probabilities that Bayesian arguments usually use would only be appropriate for highly abstract, almost purely mathematical games, such as an ideal betting situation. Even for scientific theorising it’s too ideal, I think. And for our ordinary informal reasoning (e.g. about science, or society) it’s hopeless, except for giving a rough picture of how we should conform our beliefs to the evidence, some rough idea of orders of magnitude, when things are very simple. If you start looking into any area of knowledge in any detail, as an agnostic, you are soon beyond the validity of the maths of Bayesian probabilities. (Arguing about that last claim is quite a business in philosophy of science.)

I'd say many theologians claim to know a heck of a lot more about a God they have no evidence for. They are never too slow to say what God wants from us, what is right and wrong according to him.

Some do, but I’ve noticed that a lot of experts (over various fields) take such an attitude towards those that they have—or think they have—responsibility for. If I was teaching maths I’d be very careful about when (if ever) I expressed my serious (entirely evidence-based) doubts about standard maths; maybe to the brightest students who were bound to pass the set tests anyway, since after all, only they would really understand my doubts. I’d guess that a lot of priests talk amongst themselves about their doubts.

Another similarity, there, is that with maths most of what I’d be teaching would be true enough anyway, it would only be the formal reasons why (within a subject that is explicitly formal) that weren’t, and similarly most of the morality that priest teach is fairly normal, is good enough for daily lives to run smoothly enough for most of them. That analogy would be quite close for postmodern theists; but otherwise a disanalogy would be that theism involves a personal object, not a realm of timeless truths, and ethical consequences, not economic ones.

You have said a few times that theists have evidence, but you then offer only their claims. That's not evidence. Would you like to discuss some specific examples of theological evidence?

Speaking for myself, if my sign was some evidence, I would thereby have some evidence that the transcendent is at work within creation, and so I’d expect there to be records of other evidence around. That’s why I take the Gospels more seriously now than I used to (and other accounts). It’s like if a reliable friend said he saw a UFO, I would think that he’d be best placed to decide about what he saw, and which other reports (if any) to take seriously, although I might be more likely to trust that he saw something like what he describes, than to trust his judgement about other UFOlogists. And if no one I know makes any such claim, I don’t take any such reports very seriously.

In my case, the Gospels are probably, I think, some evidence; but I don’t see why they should be evidence for you.
Was my sign any evidence for me? Objectively there was perhaps little more than a nice light in the sky (in that respect, like sunshine after a rainy week, perhaps), but it was preceded by a prophetic dream (which stood out for me at the time) and followed by some paranormal ability (which is therefore subject to scientific testing), so I take it quite seriously. But of course, it may all be imaginary. The dream may have been caused by latent paranormal ability, and have itself caused a waking hallucination (that I call ‘sign’), and such abilities might have evolved, I guess, if awareness itself could evolve from mineral water. One might expect such things to happen in some ways, under Searle’s Biological Naturalism, or Chalmers’ property dualism, or Radin’s entangled minds. Or if that’s too weird, it could all be imaginary, such as evolved biochemical computers (or social, language-using animals) might imagine.

And of course, there’re lots of other possibilities. But the obvious one is theism. (Similar stories could be told of more scientific evidence for natural laws, and the obvious explanation is that there are nomological necessities; why should I think that I’m some freak robot, when I can take my experiences pretty much at face value?)

The funny thing is that for all my own sceptical qualms, I could probably convince many people of some ridiculous things (i.e. whatever they were already inclined to believe) by showing them the third of that subjective triptych. But if I tried to get a scientific opinion of my ‘sign’ my first problem would be to get scientists to even look fairly at the third. And even then I would have to get them to not go all Humean (or positivistic) on me, as they’ve been tending to do even with respect to quantum mechanics (over the last few decades), or to push for their own favourite theory for reasons no better than the ones I already have for my developing theistic theory.

On my theory, what I have is evidence that theism is true, and for further details about that consequently important fact I should rather look to theology. After all, theism is true, so there’s a powerful creator behind creation, so if he wants anyone else to believe in theism he only has to show them what he showed me (maybe a bit more than that, if he really wants them to believe).
So why on earth would I go to the scientists rather than the theologians? I don’t even think the scientists ought to be interested. A main concern for them, as professional scientists, is profitable new technology, if not the more academic development of a physicalistic theory of everything. Whereas theists should, I think, be interested. If I’m right about my ‘sign’ and I go to the wisest of them (once I’ve worked out who they are), then eventually they could rightly claim to have evidence for theism themselves. And if I’m wrong, then why shouldn’t I bother them rather than the busy scientists? So, even as an agnostic, I have the stable result that I should look to the theologians.

I grew up with science, not religion, and so I already know more about physics than theology. That’s why I’ll be studying theology next (my route has been physics to maths to philosophy and now to theology). But my working presumption is that I’m right, and so when I hear stories of similar events in the past, I find their basic pattern to be a realistic one. I quite see that you wouldn’t, but you might (if I’m clear enough) see why I regard such testimony as potential evidence, to be examined along the lines of the sympathetically critical humanities, rather than the mathematical sciences.

Of course, at the end of the day I might be wrong about theism, but if my only hope is that I’m right then so what? Wittgenstein wrote On Certainty about a similar Cartesian problem: You may only be thinking that 2 + 2 = 4 because a demon has fooled you (or you’re in a super-Matrix, or you’re mad, and so forth). The thing is, in such a possible world why not just carry on being fooled? In such a possible world, what else could you do anyway? And of course, the world might be such that 2 + 2 = 4. We actually say that it probably is. But if you think about it, that probability is based upon no more than our accepting such arithmetic because it seems self-evident and because there’s little alternative (see Wittgenstein).

I'm quite happy considering God to be a possible explanatory model that created our universe, but it's entirely speculative, and that model tends to stop all further study.

Well, it does for a lot of people; but for a lot of people Hawking and Dawkins are the last word on science, which they think of as true. They may think of time-travel as a physical possibility, and of ethics as a matter of personal taste, and have no desire to study the boring details of science. People are like that. More often than not they’re deeper than they look, but their deeper thoughts move more slowly, and are less obvious.

You can't even establish there is anything other than the physical. Again, simply believing you have access to the truth is no better than believing you are Napoleon. Further evidence is required.

Similarly romance, history, politics: the claims may not be meaningful; and often they aren’t, and often they’re false; and furthermore, you can’t even establish that there is the physical! There are certainly thoughts and sensations, but going beyond them, for all that it’s instinctive, is to go beyond the evidence. Still, believing that there are nomological necessities (laws of nature) is clearly better than believing you are Napoleon (for all that Humeans think otherwise). And believing that one knows that one’s beloved loves one is better than believing you are Napoleon (for all the obvious evidential problems with that); and similarly with the lessons of history and the responsibilities of politics.

If there is no way of confirming of falsifying these claims, and there is no observable divine effect, then what's to distinguish these claims from any crazy claim? How do you distinguish between a theistic claim and a delusion? And, with no apparent effect, what's the point of believing it?

And what if there is an observable divine effect, some paranormal ability that works only within the Church (as Pentecostal preachers imagine they’re demonstrating to the world everyday but especially on Sunday)? It may be the result of some hitherto unknown natural force, or evidence that Hume was right, or the work of the devil, and so forth, but to find much out with a justified confidence, well, there is a lot of work to be done there, and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the studying that I should do. One can distinguish such a sign from a delusion by sharing it with others, perhaps (except that there are mass delusions, and furthermore the choice of sharing it is not one’s own), but one can’t determine what crazy conclusions they will then draw from it. What if one is genuine, but the only people who take you seriously are all deluded? But anyway, when I had no ‘sign’ (not all three aspects of it) I didn’t see the point of studying religion either, not in its details, only for its dubious info on human psychology.

I would guess that if there’s a God then you’ll get a sign insofar as your motives for wanting to know such things are good ones, and then the sign will be compatible with God’s overall motivation for his creation. And if there’s no God then you may be better off not getting such a sign, but perhaps only in the way that a teetotaller is better off not going to the pub with his messy mates and getting hammered, but should rather stay at home and read a book about physics, while the senseless wars of this world slowly smash his unnatural life to bits... But I’m definitely ranting, so I’ll stop typing now, for the 3Cs (chocolate, coffee and a cigarette), and then get on with my crazy reading (pubs being so full of children these days)... That was yesterday, but I'll leave it so messy as I'm rushed today (and maybe it would be blander if tidier:)

Ron Murphy said...

Hi,

I think you're applying your confidence and reliance on degrees of knowledge in and unbalanced way.

We can put some of the things we've been considering into two categories:

1) The ultimate nature of reality, on the small and large scales, and the nature of causality, whether the universe is caused, and if so how, or by whom.

2) Everyday experiences, including everything we know as a consequence of science, using anything from our natural perceptions to full blown scientific investigation and testing.

The atheist generally has limited confidence in (1) (by confidence I mean reliance), so that these hypotheses do not generally have a day to day consequence. I might say that I currently favour one particular idea over another, but can easily be persuaded of another point of view should later discoveries or ideas appear to be better. Whatever is discovered about, say, elementary particles, it won't make any difference to how I live my life. These hypotheses don't inform my morality. This is what we would expect. Few people come into contact with these extremes of science, but we all come into contact with natural occurrences and common scientific and engineering results. We have lots of confidence in (2). We also know that (2) can be misleading sometimes, but the scientific method is one way of minimising this, by increasing rigor.

The theist on the other hand appears to put a massive amount of confidence in (1), when it comes to God (though not so much with regard to other hypotheses) and even claims that there is evidence that is comparable in its persuasiveness with the evidence for (2), to the extent that religions are based on the type (1) hypothesis, specifically some God hypothesis.

When you've been comparing evidences you've compared the God hypothesis with other type (1) hypotheses, but putting your confidence in God evidence as if it's comparable with type (2) knowledge, and you (or theists in general) are living as if this confidence is justified, to the extent that religions are based on this hypothesis.

So, as we moved from an understanding of gravity, through Newton and Einstein, to whatever is the current flavour, it hasn't change how gravity behaves in our daily lives. As we've learned more about particles, from atoms down, we've used that knowledge in our technologies, but it hasn't changed how those particles effect us on the macro level. Whatever we discover about the extent of the universe it doesn't change what's happening to this planet. And we don't associate this changing knowledge with morality. In fact much of this knowledge is helping us to understand where our morality comes from - from within us as an evolved species, not from some divine source.

So, I still say there is no evidence for God.

"Their evidence is more like historical and philosophical evidence than scientific or mathematical evidence..." - I don't see how.

Theism may be based on some history: the Bible was written some time ago, for example, I accept as an historic fact. This is not evidence that the events recorded in the Bible occurred in the manner described. Do you believe the story of Romulus and Remus? How about the claims made in the Quran? There is historical evidence that sources of these last two exists, but no evidence of their content. What evidence is there for its claims? This is the extent of the historicity of theological evidence - it is evidence of some of religions trappings, not of it's claims. You're conflating evidence for artifacts with evidence for the claims made in them.

As far as philosophy goes, theism may appear philosophical, but it makes a point of discarding philosophical methods when it suites. What is the philosophical backing for faith? Philosophy has serval purposes, one being the act of thinking about stuff for which we do not yet have evidence. But an important part of philosophy is the application of critical thought. Theism acts in the domain of the unknown, where philosophy operates, but thrives on supportive thought only; though theists do play with and juggle with philosophical tools when challenged. Theology makes up its own rules as it goes along - hence the incredible variety.

Take the Gospels. With regard to Jesus, what were his actual words, in his own tongue, on each of the occasions which were recorded? This simply cannot be know for sure. Even in our hi-tech present times two people can listen to the speech of a significant figure, such as the president of the United States, and could still interpret it as completely different versions. You might listen to their versions, recognise some differences and wonder if they's recorded the same speech, and than on listening to the video recording yourself, interpret it in a completely different way. Add to the Jesus story all the other factors of the period that make evidence unreliable, and one should be highly sceptical about what is contained within the Gospels or any other book produced in the past.

So, for us, the Bible is just another book of antiquity. What do you make of the Quran? There are clear conflicts between Christianity and Islam. If you have any scepticism about the truth of Islam why don't you apply that scepticism to Christianity? And all the other religions? Even if it turned out that one was actually true, which one is it? As you peel through the layers of discover, how do you know when you have reached the real truth? Even if there is a sign that says, "Here is the truth!", how do you tell that that is in fact true? How can you tell that it is in fact a sign of anything? If you know that as a fallible human you can be mistaken about all manner of things in everyday life, how can you be sure you have interpreted your sign correctly?

I can't speak for your specific sign. The only response I can give is a general one, that many people have real unusual signs that indicate all manner of things, not just religious, that can be explained by naturalistic means. Did you follow the link to Ramachandran I gave earlier? As you read about some of his cases that are clearly explained by neurological conditions, just think about how they would have been interpreted in ancient times. Demonic possession?

If you are first persuaded, for whatever reason, that there is some divine intervention, some sign, that is pointing to God, then no doubt, as a fallible human, it is possible to convince yourself of its truth, particularly when you find support from like minded others.

Enigman said...

Hi Ron, thanks as always for your thoughts, their objectivity and difference to mine. You say that the theist appears to put a massive amount of reliance on the ultimate nature of reality, on the small and large scales, and the nature of causality, whether the universe is caused, and if so how, or by whom... But I don't see that myself. Most of them are unsure about whether or not God (if there is one) will find them good or bad. Many of them nowadays are even unsure about what is good and bad. Many are agnostic about doctrines, or view them as akin to poetry. Most of them rely on their consciences for moral guidance. For the most part they believe in the possibility of a person who's in charge of everything, and that it's a good bet to act as though it's probable. Where you see no evidence to take it seriously, they see no evidence not to. Perhaps they would include in your (2) examples from the humanities? I don't mean to be rude (it's not that I'm not a nerd; and a cranky one at that:)

Ron Murphy said...

Sorry for the delay. Been busy.

"Most of them are unsure about whether or not God (if there is one) will find them good or bad. Many of them nowadays are even unsure about what is good and bad." - I don't find that surprising, given the lack of any evidence for God, given the poor and contradictory arguments put forward by apologists from the various religions. But those Christians, and theists of other faiths, that wrap themselves up 24/7 in their own religion, deny all others, and cling on to blind-faith, are not doubters of their faith itself; though maybe they doubt their ability to live up to its demands, which isn't the same thing.

"Many are agnostic about doctrines, or view them as akin to poetry." - That's because some of the doctrines are so crazy, or have changed dramatically, and obviously arbitrarily, over time, that most people with any sense find they have to re-interpret what were absolute truths and literal scriptures, as allegories in order to maintain the slightest bit of credibility in their religion. They even go as far as Sam Norton, who on the one hand maintains his belief in Christ (and his job incedentally), but in many of his blog discussions denies there is a God in any physical literal sense.

"Most of them rely on their consciences for moral guidance." - Precisely. That's what we all do. And that is informed by evolution, personal development and culture. So what use is God other than some symbolic metaphor; and if that is all he is why all the doctrinal clap-trap.

"For the most part they believe in the possibility of a person who's in charge of everything, and that it's a good bet to act as though it's probable." - That's fine, if that's as far as it goes, but it isn't is it. All the religious dogma is heaped on top of that basic hypothesis so that you end up with Islamists who want to kill apostates and homosexuals, Catholics who would allow people to suffer aids because one quick method of prevention doesn't suit their dogma.

Dawkins and others often berate nice tame Christians, such as anglicans, for providing moral support for religious fundamentalists - many Christians would rather vilify atheists and make claims such as there being no morality without God, rather than openly criticise the faith element of fundamentalists. Sure, they'd criticise extremists who employ violence and terror, but when did you last listen to a mixed faith event where a Christian anglican said to a Muslim, "OK, we both believe in some sort of God, but you got to cut out that death to apostate nonsense." They are so busy 'respecting' each others faith while they ostracise atheists that they are unable or unwilling to highlight the glaring inconsistencies and contradictions that are staring them in the face.

If Christians doubt to the extent you suggests they would be far better adopting some view like this:

We accept that the God hypothesis is one of many possibilities, and that there is no evidence that God exists, or that any of the Christian faith is based on reality. However, we want to use the concept of Christ, the Christian 'story', as a symbol, a metaphor, that helps us describe how we wish to live our lives. We go to church, not to worship in any archaic literal sense, but as a means of gathering together as like-minded individuals who want to enjoy and spread love and peace through our communion with each other. We reject any real notion of heaven and hell, because we find it particularly un-Christian to supposedly condemn to an eternity in hell anyone that doesn't go along with our world view. Etc...

I'm waiting for some good Christians to bite the bullet and take this route. Of course they'll be ostrcised too, along with the atheists. But hey, let the Jesus be their example.

Enigman said...

...but we do think that we have evidence for theism (in its Christian form), that was my original point about probabilities; no?

Ron Murphy said...

Hi,

"but we do think that we have evidence for theism (in its Christian form)" - OK, so you do think you have the evidence. But 'thinking it' isn't evidence. Nor is it evidence of evidence.

You are offering evidence of something, and that is evidence that your brain holds some point of view. But as I've said before, we know how fallible our brains are when we rely on them alone.

We tend to take mundane beliefs for granted, such as "I've just stepped outside, it looks like its raining and I'm getting wet; therefore it's raining. I don't need to carry out experiments to determine that I am experiencing genuine rainfall, I'll use past and present experience." Of course I could still be mistaken, in the short term. Maybe a plane spraying water flew overhead just before I stepped out. It's not completely implausible, but sufficiently so to dismiss it. Raining is a category (2) event. I don't generally need full-blown scientific trials to determine that it is raining. Careful observation would be sufficient. But if I took this category (2) event and wanted to examine it in more detail I'd probably want to use a more rigorous approach. Say if I though there had been an increase in rainfall this year. So the more we demand from our experiences the more thorough we have to be to substantiate them.

You are making a claims about what are probably the most demanding puzzles we as humans in this universe can consider - How did this universe come about? If one of the possibilities, God, is plausible, how would this God interact with us? And so on. This is category (1) stuff - your extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence. But based on nothing more than thoughts, and I guess feelings, you believe you have the answer. What's more, your answer, in whatever form it currently takes, is no further on that it was more than a thousand years ago when monotheistic hypothesis began to dominate. And, your view conflicts directly in many respects with the otherwise similar views of others. You wouldn't (I presume) accept the same lack of rigor and consistency for much category (2) stuff.

How inadequate this 'evidence' you claim really is, Dawkins puts this into context when he takes us through a fictitious issue of The Quarterly Review Of Biology, with some suggested papers on the question of "Did an asteroid kill the dinosaurs?".

The first paper is a standard scientific paper quoting evidence, "This paper presents evidence of iridium at the KT boundary ... that indicates that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs."

The second paper begins, "The President of the Royal Society has a strong inner conviction that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs."

The third, "It has been revealed to Prof H. that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs."

The fourth, "Prof H. was brought up to have total and unquestioning faith that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs."

Taken out of the God context what you say is evidence is actually intellectual suicide.

Enigman said...

Hi Ron,

I see how reasonable your remarks are, but I don't think they tell the whole story about evidence. You say that my evidence is nothing more than thoughts and feelings, but insofar as it is, so is any evidence. You mention "evidence of iridium at the KT boundary ... that indicates that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs" so let's look at that. Reading that paper, I'd have to take it on trust that competent scientists have actually checked that there is such evidence. Such things are sometimes a bit iffy, according to the history of Western science; and it's a matter of sociology when they're most iffy. And sociology isn't a hard, physical science. Would you agree that scientists tend not to test what is taken for granted by other scientists? And as for the question of what iridium at such a boundary indicates about dinosaurs well, surely that depends a lot on what the alternative hypotheses are? And again, many possible hypotheses are simply not considered for sociological reasons.

I can think of my own range of hypotheses, and such things are thoughts in my head. But still, that is the only way I can check the second part of that paper's logic. And I can't even check the first part, as I can't do my own experiments on iridium, basically because I'm not rich enough to buy my own laboratory. The best I could do is work within someone else's, and then I'd be doing what I was told to do, the way I was told to do it. I suspect, therefore, that the superiour evidential quality of the first paper comes down to thoughts and feelings. It is different for the guys who wrote the paper, of course, but the point is that we are considering the evidence presented by the paper. And part of how good that evidence is considered to be is a matter of the strong inner convictions of the reader, that all those scientists (the sorts of people the reader grew up with and went to school with, perhaps) know what they're doing, and would be honest even in the face of sociological pressures.

Incidentally, you mentioned Sam Norton in a previous comment. Now, I don’t know enough about his theistic beliefs to judge them, but regarding his belief that atheism is irrational, there is something to be said for that, I think, which relates to our discussion. For example (which generalises into most materialistic beliefs), many physicists now believe in a ‘many worlds’ interpretation of QM. It avoids such problems as QM’s incompatibility with relativity, and ‘collapse’ interpretations being favourable to the paranormal, and to mind-brain dualism, and making most sense if God collapses the universal wave-function. But the problem is that such physicists thereby believe that, for example (which generalises to all sorts of actions), if they did something with a 99.999% chance of making lots of money, and a 0.001% of killing someone, then that person is actually killed as a result, in some world.

Of course, the physicist would probably end up making money, and if she did she’d hardly feel guilty for killing someone. But if she did such a thing, and made the money, and was then the same person as the person who did that thing, then she was also the same person as the person who killed someone. She could deny that she was the same person, but then she would also (of course) not have been the same person had she killed someone in this world (which had a 0.001% of being the case). That is, if she did end up killing someone, then according to her beliefs she ought not to feel guilty about that. Not being insane, she probably would. But therefore such a physicist is holding an irrational belief. She couldn’t even say that the bad outcome was so unlikely that the risk was worthwhile, because it had a 100% probability of happening in some actual world. What she could do is admit that she’s not perfectly rational: Why (she could think) should highly evolved apes be perfectly rational?

By contrast, the theist—thinking of himself as created, as a rational agent, by a perfect judge of his behaviour—is more likely to see that as a problem for such an interpretation (and quite generally we do judge our scientific beliefs on how coherent they are). He would choose between not having a ‘many worlds’ interpretation of QM, not believing himself to be responsible for what he’s done in the past, and never doing anything with any chance of such an outcome. So the most rational thing to do is (clearly?) to disbelieve the ‘many worlds’ interpretation (unless there’s overwhelming evidence for it, which there seems not to be).

Incidentally, atheists often point out that theism is less common towards the academic heights of the physical sciences. But that hardly indicates the irrationality of theism if ‘many worlds’ interpretations are indeed irrational and yet more common there. I see that it could seem to indicate it, but I don’t think that Sam means by ‘irrational’ superficially funny-looking to those of one’s own sub-culture. I see that he could seem to mean that, but the thing is, theism should, as a philosophy, take account of more evidence than physics, as a science, has to. And many theists do hold their beliefs rationally on the basis of more evidence than atheists could rationally allow themselves to consider. Those whose opinions I would take seriously do, at any rate. If you want to consider only the other, less rational theists, then that’s fine with me. They are the bigger social problem, after all. But they speak for theism no more than the reader of popular science books speaks for science (whatever they think).

Ron Murphy said...
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Ron Murphy said...
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Ron Murphy said...

Hi,

A big fat yes to paragraph one. This is precisely my point. Another example is plate tectonics. For decades after the idea was put forward it was rejected by the majority in the science community, and even late in the day some specific institutions were against it; and of course schoolroom text books would lag behind, so there would have been generations of kids learning old science. With all the resources and rigor that science has at its fingertips it can still get things wrong. The best science can do is minimise errors, or correct errors. The scientific method is the best tool we have of countering our fallibilities when it comes to establishing knowledge.

So, when you point out these flaws, which I agree with, can't you see that discarding the scientific method isn't actually going to make your knowledge acquisition better, but worse?

"So the most rational thing to do is (clearly?) to disbelieve the ‘many worlds’ interpretation (unless there’s overwhelming evidence for it, which there seems not to be)." - Not quite. The rational thing to do is say that the 'many worlds' interpretation is just one of many interesting hypotheses, but we have no evidence it represents reality, so don't go basing your life on it. For example, don't assume that in any particular experiment that has 99% chance of success in our universe has any effect at all in another, because that would be a dumb thing to do. How could you tell what would happen in another world/universe when you can't even be certain the hypothesis that suggests other worlds is a good one?

Let's make up another world. Every time I click my fingers someone dies in another world as a result of that. Alternatively, every time I click my fingers someone is born in another world. Either, both or none could be the case. I don't know. I've just made this up. I can go on inventing all sorts of hypothetical scenarios - it's all nonsense. I treat God the same way. In a sense the God theists describe is a similar invention. God is invented in the mind of theists. I could be equally speculative about the God hypothesis. You have one model - the good God. Another is the God of Eth (Stephen Law's) - He wants us to suffer. He causes all the suffering. Whenever any good occurs he is setting us up for a fall. How can you refute this God of Eth without refuting your own? How can you refute Islam without refuting Christianity? It's all speculation.

Clearly, the very flaws that you identify in our attempt at understanding the limits of the physical world, its origin, it's relationship with other 'worlds', should they exist, also exist with your God hypothesis. But no scientist is praying to the other world views, of suggesting they dictate what is good and evil in this world.

The God hypothesis is only that. There is zero evidence. There is plenty of wild speculation. None if it is backed up by anything approaching what we consider reality.

"...theism should, as a philosophy, take account of more evidence than physics, as a science, has to." - No. Science is the most rigorous method we have for acquiring knowledge. You are confusing speculation with evidence. Theism uses more speculation to support its core belief? Yes.

Philosophy is an attempt understand aspects of reality that science can't yet explain, generally combining speculation, logic and critical thinking to suggest possible interpretations of reality. This is why topics that were once the sole domain of philosophy gradually move into the domain of science as science comes up with explanations and supportive evidence. Philosophy can be a little 'wilder' or more speculative than science, in order to explore possibilities, which science can then investigate further. Some problems remain in the philosophical domain still, because science isn't yet able to tackle them. The Dualism debate is shifting into the realm of science - the evidence is building for physicalism, though it isn't conclusive yet. The dualist view of some sort of 'other non-physical self' has moved from a soul residing in the heart, to Decarte's notion of a centre within the brain, to some supernatural entity that is somehow associated with the brain, to what science now thinks of as an illusion.

Science and philosophy are used to investigate and attempt to arrive at an understanding, to the extent that if any particular conclusion is later shown to be wrong it is discarded without regret, even with glee because something new has been learned. Sometimes, for those fallible philosophers or scientists that have invested there lives into a conclusion, this part of he process is difficult. Whole sub-cultures of scientists can cling on to an erroneous belief, and when that happens it is quite reasonable to charge those scientists with treating their pet theory like a religion - an apt and intentionally derogatory charge. This only confirms what I have been claiming - that rigorous adaptation of the scientific method is required to overcome our fallibilities when acquiring knowledge.

Theism is quite different. Theism's main objective is to support the God hypothesis, to attempt to build arguments that support it. It is a corruption of philosophical and scientific principles. It has the conclusion and makes every effort to support it and discard any conflicting ideas. Some theists, those that have a grain of intellectual honesty, clearly struggle with the inconsistencies between what science tells them very clearly and what their scripture claims, to the extent that they bend, twist, reinterpret, and yes, if necessary, discard some elements of scripture. Theism abuses philosophy and science. Swinbourne's Principles of Credulity and Testimony are an abusive philosophical joke. Intelligent Design 'scientists' abuse the scientific method by ignoring evidence that doesn't fit their beliefs.

I agree there is lots of trust in science. I haven't even seen the KT boundary. But I have read books and seen TV programmes that are put together by reputable scientists. It's part of the trust mechanisms in science* - science isn't just falsifictionism. That trust is built from the ground up, from simple repeatable 'science' experiments in school - unlike theism, it is not a simple appeal to authority. You can buy books that explain simple cheap experiments that are repeatable anywhere. Science is open for all to learn. Yes, we have to trust professional scientists to a great extent, and they often get it wrong. Following Chernobyl, Cumbrian farmers where told to leave their sheep grazing on the hills because the science said the effects would be short term. Turned out that the soil models used to predict the retention of radioactive particles was the wrong one - didn't match the Cumbrian hill soil pattern. Science got it wrong - but it wasn't scripture that corrected this mistake, it was more rigorous science. The fallibility of the humans involved determined that the science was bad, not the science itself. The science gave a correct answer, but he scientists were asking the wrong question. The response is more rigorous science, not scripture, not just coming up with a plausible hypothesis that you happen to like then running with that. The answer is to take your hypothesis and subject it to the scientific method. This hasn't been done with the God hypothesis.


* Have a look at Simon Schaffer's work. Try this podcast series: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/features/science/index.html
It highlights many of the fallibilities, but in ding so it demands better sceince, not less of it.

Enigman said...

Ron, I've never suggested that we discard the scientific method, only that we recognise what it can do, and what it can't do. And I've no problem with admitting that religious methods are much less reliable. Inbetween are the methods of historians, and of detectives. Re the 'many worlds' hypothesis, I would say that we each have considerable evidence that it's false, via the evident absurdity of either denying responsibility for what one has recently done in the past, or else accepting responsibility for what was very unlikely to happen and didn't happen. One might claim that such absurdity is just a matter of social conventions, but I have the gut feeling that it's more than that. And I suspect that most courts of law would associate not having that feeling with criminality.

The 'many worlds' interpretation isn't just pure speculation though. It was the simplest hypothesis to satisfy certain requirements, and many top physicists believe it's quite likely to be true. Some theisms are similar to that. E.g. my inclusivistic, presentist open theism is, I think. It's not just made-up, like the god of Eth was. I've an open mind about whether Mormonism is like the former or the latter. I suspect the latter; but of course, I haven't looked into its details for that very reason. Now, I don't feel that I'm neglecting a potentially important hypothesis, because I've plenty of potentialy important hypotheses to look into instead; and similarly, I think you'd be right to ignore all theisms until you see direct evidence for yourself that there's something to some of them. The best I could hope for would be an open mind about my particular kind of theism, and my claims to have evidence for it.

There isn't the same kind of evidence for theism as there is for lots of historical stuff. But theism is a basic metaphysical position. You probably think that neuroscience can explain our fairly common religious feelings, but the situation is actually quite complicated, I think. I also think that there's no evidence building up for physicalism, that the idea that there is is wishful thinking on the part of physicalistic scientists. Where is the evidence? The evidence against a substantial dualism would have to be evidence that there was no micro-psychokinetic effect in the living human brain, and we just haven't got enough access to the brain to notice such an absence. It's not enough to ask where the evidence for dualism is; that is spread out, over areas beyond neuroscience (e.g. psychology and metaphysics).

Perhaps some of the dumber theistic beliefs are being refuted, but not theism per se. Many theists welcome the growth of scientific knowledge as the improvement of our theistic philosophy. The correlation between brain activity and religious or paranormal experiences, for example, is no threat to my beliefs. Similarly, there's a correlation between brain activity and eating nice food, which doesn't mean that the food you're eating isn't nutricious. I fail to see why the correlation for religious or paranormal experiences should be a threat to theism or psi. Could you explain why it should be?

Enigman said...

...incidentally, I'm enjoying our discussion, but I've not been able to see anything that you've linked to, as they're all banned sites at this library, it seems (even edge.org!)

Ron Murphy said...

Hi,
Sorry about the links. Hadn't realised you couldn't get to them. If you do get the chance sometime they are worth looking up.

Ron Murphy said...

"I've never suggested that we discard the scientific method, only that we recognise what it can do, and what it can't do." - But you do discard it to the extent that you make claims about evidence that supports the God hypothesis, evidence that falls well short of that required to verify such a significant hypothesis.

"Re the 'many worlds' hypothesis, I would say that we each have considerable evidence that it's false" - Really? What is that evidence? From my point of view it is one hypothesis. It may even have a stronger correlation with some mathematically based theories; but that doesn't make it true or false. As a hypothesis there's not much more to recommend it. The same goes for God and duality.

"via the evident absurdity of either denying responsibility for what one has recently done in the past, or else accepting responsibility for what was very unlikely to happen and didn't happen" - First, 'evident absurdity' is one of those dangerous presumptions. These are phrases usually indicate anything but what they claim. Second, I don't know where responsibility fits into this discussion at all. Could you explain what you mean by it.

"gut feeling" - But what is a gut feeling worth? Your gut feeling about anything is a vague conglomeration of perceptions, emotions, memories, ideas. It's not rigorous enough to be useful beyond indicating a general direction of interest. It's just a source for your hypothesis. It's where you take it after that that is significant. And that requires far more rigor.

"And I suspect that most courts of law would associate not having that feeling with criminality." - Why? Not sure what this has to do with the discussion.

"The 'many worlds' interpretation isn't just pure speculation though. It was the simplest hypothesis to satisfy certain requirements, and many top physicists believe it's quite likely to be true. Some theisms are similar to that." - In what way is it similar? What requirements are theisms satisfying?

"It's not just made-up, like the god of Eth was." - Of course it is just made up. Not by you right now, but your specific interpretation is based on monotheisms of the past, which in turn answered some of the objections to polytheisms. Yes, it's a more refined hypothesis that is being developed to answer ever increasing objections to it, but there it's only ever a hypothesis. What use is it?

"The best I could hope for would be an open mind about my particular kind of theism, and my claims to have evidence for it." - I have an open mind. I accept it as a plausible hypothesis. Can you give me specific evidence to support it.

"But theism is a basic metaphysical position." - Metaphysics is all about hypotheses. That's the point. What practical use is it? Metaphysics Let's take an obvious human interest, morality. Most theisms link this God hypothesis to human morality, but why?

"The evidence against a substantial dualism would have to be evidence that there was no micro-psychokinetic effect in the living human brain, and we just haven't got enough access to the brain to notice such an absence." - I agree we don't have enough evidence to demonstrate there is no micro-psychokinetic, but that is not required, because neuroscientists, like any scientists, don't go round disproving something for which there is no supportive evidence, no theory, in the first place. If you think micro-psychokinetic effects occur it is for you (or micro-psychokinetic scientists, certainly not theists) to show some evidence that it exists. Some people think ghosts exist, but there is no obvious evidence they do, and so there is nothing to test, no theory to disprove, and therefore no disproving evidence to present.

"It's not enough to ask where the evidence for dualism is.." - It is enough to ask that. That is precisely what is asked for.

"Perhaps some of the dumber theistic beliefs are being refuted, but not theism per se." - Yes, but because the core God hypothesis is about something we cannot observe or test, not because it is true.

"The correlation between brain activity and religious or paranormal experiences, for example, is no threat to my beliefs." - When the correlations are as strong as they are it should be a threat. Science is all about correlations. When we measure temperature with a thermometer we are using the correlation in expansion in a liquid with the temperature, nothing more. We have no direct access to the causal events. Our whole view of the world is correlations, between what happens in our brains when other things happen in the world around us. The strength of the evidence for any scientific claim is based on the number, variety and veracity of these correlations. There are correlations between irrational beliefs and specific brain states, such as phantom limb experiences, or specific brain injuries and strange perceptions.

Enigman said...

First, 'evident absurdity' is one of those dangerous presumptions. These are phrases usually indicate anything but what they claim. Second, I don't know where responsibility fits into this discussion at all. Could you explain what you mean by it.

You say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I agree. But of course, "extraordinary claim" is another such phrase. To people like me, of which there are a few billion, such a claim might be the claim that any arrangment of molecules could possibly possess the sort of awareness that we directly know we possess. Consequently we require far more evidence to support that claim than you would. To you, such a claim would rather be the claim that all that exists was created by a perfect form of such awareness. That is, I think, why we disagree so much about evidence.

The thing about those two claims is that they leave a very peculiar residue, filled by such hypotheses as Chalmers' property dualism and Searle's biological naturalism. I've a lot of respect for such hypotheses, and in the absence of extraordinary evidence for either physicalism or theism, one might expect people to work almost entirely within the range of possible explanations yielded by such hypotheses. (The development of science seems to require that the great scientists work within some range of speculative hypotheses.) And many people do work there, especially in academia. But still, those who see nothing particularly extraordinary about one of the two more obvious claims do naturally regard such hypotheses as rather ad hoc or chimerical.

Responsibility fits in because we operate as responsible agents. If we didn't feel responsible for our beliefs, for example, we probably wouldn't worry about the truth of theism. And when we pursue the truth we look for explanatory power in a hypothesis. (Scientists don't just ignore hypotheses, and we'd have little scientific knowledge if they did.) If a hypothesis has to explain away responsibility, then it has more work to do (is making a more extraordinary claim) than one that doesn't have to explain it away.

I was claiming that 2 things are evidently absurd. The first is that one isn't ever responsible for what one did yesterday. Suppose you do something rather good, or rather bad. Tomorrow you believe that you personalloy didn't do it, someone else did. Are you suggesting that it's not obvious that people would generally regard that as an extremely abnormal belief, perhaps insane, and absurd? Cf. those who say that the Queen should apologise for Imperialism. I think that she should at least do charity work for those who inherited the losses that accompanied her inherited gains; but should she feel personally responsible for the choices of her ancestors? Indeed, could we possibly inherit guilt by being the descendents of Adam? Many people nowadays regard all that as absurd, and self-evidently so.

Similarly, the other evident absurdity was believing oneself to be responsible for the actual occurance of something that was a physically possible outcome of one's action, but was (i) very unlikely to happen and (ii) didn't actually happen, not in the real world (the one evidently around us). This is perhaps less self-evident. But consider a doctor giving a treatment to someone, with a 99.9% chance of saving a limb, and a 0.1% chance of killing them. Now consider a doctor saving 999 different people's limbs, at the price of killing one other person. Do you see the difference? Whether or not you do, a lot of people would, whence my claim of evident absurdity.

"gut feeling" - But what is a gut feeling worth? Your gut feeling about anything is a vague conglomeration of perceptions, emotions, memories, ideas.

Ah, but what evidence do you have for you extraordinary implication that my gut feelings about the objective reality of responsibility are no more than vague conglomerations of perceptions, emotions, memories, ideas? (Science has progressed in the past only through scientists going with their gut feelings.) The hypothesis that one's feelings of personal responsibility arise from evolutionary pressures on social animals; it's not a bad hypothesis, within physicalism. But we naturally take our feelings about our responsibilities more seriously than that. It is in the nature of responsibility - under any hypothesis - that we do; whence my gut feelings. Whether they're indicative of an objective moral order on a par with physics (as uhder many theisms) or our being highly evolved social animals within physics (as under many physicalisms), well that depends upon the evidence. And how much evidence is required depends upon which hypothesis one already prefers.

Most theisms link this God hypothesis to human morality, but why?

I can't speak for most theisms; I'd guess that they do it because that's how they indoctrinate their children. (Atheists similarly bang on about the Spanish Inquisition.) A better connection goes via explanatory power. The most likely theism is the one with the best theodicy. In the past, natural evils were explained in terms of God's displeasure. Sacrifices were made to appease the gods. God was a Father figure. I think that a better theodicy would give rise to a better connection. My problem in developing a better theodicy won't be with physicalism but with most existing theisms, and their associated political (as opposed to philosophical) bullshit. You may find that ironic, but cf. the problems professional scientists have with the big businesses that employ them, e.g. on green issues.

scientists, don't go round disproving something for which there is no supportive evidence, no theory, in the first place

Dualism is our natural belief, like the belief that the world is flat. It took evidence to shake the belief that the world is flat. Similarly, evidence is required against dualism. Some scientists notice that fact (e.g. Eccles); some just go with the physicalistic flow. Science is, but ought not to be, a popularity contest. Evidence certainly is required, and there is none. Furthermore, all of the physicalistic theories that we have at present are evidently absurd. That in itself amounts to evidence for dualism. But of course, you would disagree, because we disagree about which basic hypotheses are ordinary, and which are extraordinary.

Ron Murphy said...

Take Chalmers' property dualism, as an example. These are metaphysical arguments, my category (1) arguments. They are arguments that include disputed assumptions that we are unable resolve. Chalmers may make statements, "if such and such is true then materialism fails"; but first, he cannot establish the truth of his assumptions, and second, there are equally good counter arguments, that also use slightly different assumptions.

Now, I might side with one argument or another here, but that doesn't really matter. My point is that there have been many such arguments within philosophy and religion that have existed in the past, but they tend to fade into insignificance, or perhaps the frontier of the unknown recedes further into the metaphysical and speculative, as science comes up with quite practical materialist explanations that work.

Note that I'm not claiming for consciousness and dualism that science has a concrete explanation, a well established theory, much less a proof. What I am saying is that science has lots of evidence that, if you like, correlates with a physicalist view, or is compatible with a physicalist view.

The evidence for physicalism is cumulative supportive evidence from several disciplines. With a little stretch of the imagination it parallels the evidence for evolution, which started out as an idea, found support in the layering of fossil evidence, which itself relied on geology and methods of aging rock strata, had some elements challenged by the requirement for continental drift which was at first denied but later confirmed, and has been supported to a pretty unchallangeable degree by more recent DNA evidence. Although there was genuine scientific disputes about evolution, and still is with regard to some of its processes, the main objections came from various theologies that simply denied it on no other grounds than wishful thinking about the truth of those theologies, to the extent that for most educated theists that understand evolution the theology has receded into the distant past, so that many would now claim evolution as being a correct representation of what happened but claim that God is the ultimate source of the evolutionary process.

It also parallels the progress in cosmology, where once God was in the heavens above, hell was below and earth was in the centre. This literal interpretation changed until now God has become some 'infinite' immaterial entity, the first cause, that somehow exists (depending on the theological weaseling around the definition of existence) outside or within or as-a-whole-with the universe.

There isn't one knockdown theory that shows dualism is false. Dualism is like the God hypothesis. Wherever science steps in dualism retreats from. The human mind has an inventive capacity that will always allow you to explain away your pet hypothesis in the face of contradictory science. Dualism is as slippery as God, but also as slippery as the God of Eth, fairies, alien abduction and all the other stuff for which there is zero evidence. Despite the fact that the God of Eth is obviously made up it would be quite feasible to construct a whole theology around it. You can't escape from the inference that God is made up too? The way theology has developed over the millenia it is quite clear that it is adapting to accommodate what we now call scientific knowledge and what in earlier times when by other names, such as natural philosophy.

"Responsibility fits in because we operate as responsible agents." - There is an entirely compatible physicalist view of responsibility, free-will, etc. I'd suggest we tackle this on a separate thread if you wish. In this context what I suppose your interpretation of responsibility to be is so dependent on the God hypothesis that it's not something you can throw into the discussion here as supportive of the God hypothesis. Your following paragraph has such a theological spin on it that I would want to dispute much upon which it relies, so again, perhaps another thread.

"gut feeling" - "Science has progressed in the past only through scientists going with their gut feelings." - Incomplete. Scientific advances may start with a gut feeling, Richard Feynman said it can start with a guess. But many gut feelings in science are wrong. It's the scientific method that follows that creates the real advance. The 'land-bridge' hypothesis was a gut-feeling that turned out to be so entrenched that it damaged scientific progress, even in the face of mounting evidence that began to emerge with the discovery of the mid-Atlantic ridge and subsequent discoveries. The opposing gut-feeling, of continental drift, was sufficient when it first appeared - it was rejected. Only later scientific evidence overwhelmed the prevailing gut-feeling. Without the scientific method you end up with a bunch of unsubstantiated metaphysics, or worse, theologies.

"The hypothesis that one's feelings of personal responsibility arise from evolutionary pressures on social animals; it's not a bad hypothesis, within physicalism. But we naturally take our feelings about our responsibilities more seriously than that." - First, under the God hypothesis responsibility is easily misunderstood, unfairly attributed, unjustly dealt with, because the theologies that weigh responsibility are so arbitrary, so unscientific, so open to the whims of the theologians. The Catholic denouncement of contraception is a humanitarian disgrace, and Islam still lives in the barbaric past. Second, responsibility can be dealt with quite seriously under physicalism, and with more compassion, less dogma.

"It is in the nature of responsibility - under any hypothesis - that we do; whence my gut feelings." - At one time it was thought by science that perhaps a cold clinical logical approach was sufficient. This mistake made it possible for awful ideologies to abuse scientific knowledge. But science recognises the significance of emotions, their importance in decision making - thanks to interdisciplinary brain sciences it has been shown that if the emotional elements are disconnected, say through brain injury, then decision making becomes impossible. Without going into the detail, the 'human' parts of the brain are built on top of the evolutionary older parts of the brain, but still rely on those older parts. Those gut feelings are a combination of older emotional responses combined with the newer cognitive areas through associative mechanisms in complex feedback loops. So, good critical thinking relies on the appropriate use of the whole brain.

A gut feeling is a combination of many past and present brain states. There are plenty of experiments that show how unreliable these feelings or intuitions are. Gut feelings cannot be relied upon to the extent to which you appear to rely on them. You have the gut feeling that there is a God of some sort, you are also attracted to dualism, but you offer no evidence. To repeat, the arguments like Chalmers' are not evidence - they are metaphysical philosophical arguments, meta-physical meaning 'beyond what we currently know physically' and not meaning 'above and superior to knowledge of the physical', an interpretation of metaphysics that some theists hope for.

You might say that this implies that one's past, which effects emotions and gut feelings, could influence one's critical thinking to the extent that it becomes arbitrary, so that my ideas about physicalism are no better than yours about theism. This is true, and physicalism has an explanation for this too - basically that free-will is an illusion and we are the products of our environment just like any material object, except that we are complex material organisms (mechanisms) so the outcome is so apparently arbitrary that we think we have free-will. The physicalist view recognises this explicitly, and this is why, to establish any understanding as reliably as possible, it is not sufficient to rely on the mental, i.e. (1) and (2) in my (1)-(6) classification earlier. Reliable consistent knowledge requires all six. Even then the physicalist view recognises the potential for mistakes, the fallibility of human brains acting over time in different cultures. Physicalism allows for the fact there is no access to absolute knowledge, that one has to be open to mistakes, new ideas and change.

"that depends upon the evidence." - Yes. "And how much evidence is required depends upon which hypothesis one already prefers." - No. The type and quality of the evidence is significant. The physicalist evidence is abundant (not conclusive), is of high quality (1-6). The evidence for dualism, and God, is little (all comes down to gut feelings and scripture) and lower quality (1-2).

"problems professional scientists have with the big businesses that employ them, e.g. on green issues." - This isn't a problem for physicalism. The influence of environment on the credibility of the scientists in his environment has been recognised for a log time. Try "Leviathan and the Air Pump" by Simon Schaffer for one source. Because this effect is known science goes to great lengths to overcome it. But of course the results aren't perfect, there just as good as we can get so far. However, the fact that these difficulties exist doesn't mean that theists can use that to excuse their even more biased pre suppositional, metaphysical, gut-feeling approach to the discovery of knowledge.

Remember, you have a presupposed gut-feeling based hypothesis to which you apply some reasoned argument. But you don't have evidence. What you are claiming as evidence is not evidence by any reasonable standard. You have nothing you can demonstrate. You have no experiments that correlate your hypothesis with anything else known to man.

"Dualism is our natural belief, like the belief that the world is flat. It took evidence to shake the belief that the world is flat. Similarly, evidence is required against dualism." - Agreed.

"Some scientists notice that fact (e.g. Eccles); some just go with the physicalistic flow." - I disagree. Sure, there will be some people (non-scientists generally) who go with the flow, just as many religious people go with the flow of their religion; more so for the latter I would say.

"Science is, but ought not to be, a popularity contest." - I don't think so. There is much anti-science sentiment. A lot of it is because most people don't understand the particular science they criticise, or don't understand how science works generally, and this condition is aggravated by poor media coverage, often by journalists who don't understand the science either, and I have to say the editorial comment on scientific matters by many journalists who are theists is particularly biased and anti-science. Having said all that it doesn't matter, it doesn't make the science wrong.

"Evidence certainly is required, and there is none." - Evidence that supports and is consistent with physicalism, there is plenty, though inconclusive. There is zero evidence for dualism.

"Furthermore, all of the physicalistic theories that we have at present are evidently absurd." - They are not. Physicalism can explain the brain-mind very well and consistently.

"That in itself amounts to evidence for dualism." - Even if your previous statement were true this one would be clearly false. This is god-of-the-gaps stuff. Even if there was an absence of evidence, any evidence, even when there wasn't any evidence, as far back in time as you like, that wouldn't amount to evidence for dualism. I'm not sure how you can even contemplate this statement when the 'absence of evidence isn't evidence for absence' argument is so often played by theists - a straw man by the way because I know of no atheist who absolute in there claim.

"But of course, you would disagree, because we disagree about which basic hypotheses are ordinary, and which are extraordinary." - We are physical creatures. We live in a material world. There is zero evidence of anything non-material. We might 'feel' we have a mind that is something other than our brain, but no evidence of that. We have examples where 'feeling' something is obviously mistaken, whether that is a 'feeling' about something physical, e.g. phantom limb, or something mental, e.g. the effect of prayer. It is the lack of evidence for dualism, plus all the evidence that counters dualism, plus all the evidence that supports physicalism, that leads me to conclude, for now, that physicalism is the best explanation. I have gone through many hypotheses - I didn't start out with the physicalist view, it began to grow on me the more evidence I considered. You, on the other hand, have a God hypothesis, and a dualist hypothesis (they are interdependent). You offer some metaphysical arguments that never go beyond (1) and (2) in my classification, you discount anything that doesn't concur with your gut-feeling. The two approaches don't appear to be balanced.

As to the ordinariness of your hypothesis, I do disagree. Your dualist hypothesis relies on an internal 'feeling' and on nothing from the physical world that we experience. It is far from ordinary.

The physical is the most basic: minerals, complex chemicals, DNA, prokaryote, eukaryote, multi-cellular, ..., first nervous systems, simple nervous systems like Aplysia, simpler mammals, appearance of the neocortex, primate brains, human brains. There is a continuum of evolutionary development that has lead to the human brain. When did dualism pop into existence and why? You can't even say what the properties of the dualist mind are. Vague notions of 'what it is to be like something' are often used by dualist, but they are hopelessly inadequate; juggling with words in a philosophical manner.

From another angle, brain science has many examples where very localised brain damage can disrupt many abilities that we would intuitively attribute to the mind. Here are a couple of examples.

Take the fusiform gyrus, where faces are recognised (there are neurons sensitive to faces). Messages reach this from vision processing areas at the back of the brain. This allows us to recognise faces. If this is damaged you can't recognise faces - you can't recognise your own face in a mirror.

From a normal fusiform gyrus messages are sent to the amygdala, in the emotional area of the brain, which guages the emotional content of what you have recognised - is it pray, preditor, mate, etc. If the face is recognised as something emotionally significant it triggers other systems, hear rate, sweating, etc., all normally imperceptable but measureable by measurement. If the link from the fusiform gyrus to the amygdala is cut you can see and recognise the face of your own mother, but when you look at her you think she is an imposter, someone who just happens to look like your mother. The emotional link is not present. Despite all the evidence you feel sure it is not your mother. Yet, she can go into the next room, speak to you on the phone and instantly recognise her voice, as your mother, because the damage is specifically in the visual path, not the auditory path. You can recognise someone from their voice, but you can't look at them and know, yes, that's my mother. The impact on the 'mind', our cognitive abilities, is so striking, that it puts into question what it is to know someone.

Another example, relevant to dualism, is synesthesia - the mingling of the senses. It's hereditary. It's caused by accidental cross wiring in the brain, which in turn is caused by an abnormal gene. We are born with lots of inter-wiring between brain regions, but these are trimmed down to create the modular architecture of the brain. There is a gene causing this trimming, but certain mutations of that gene cause inefficient trimming between different brain areas and that causes synesthesia. Now the 'Mary the colour scientist' example is often used in dualism arguments to explain what additional knowledge Mary gains as she is exposed to a world of colour, having been restricted to a monochrome world. She is supposed to have known 'everything' there is to know about colour from her experiments, yet adds 'something', some 'non-physical knowing' to her experiences as she emerges into the colour world and experiences colur for the first time. Well, besides the fact that the Mary example fails in its own right (we can look at that if you wish) what is known about the brain debunks the whole Mary thought experiment anyway. Knowledge about how the brain develops and how it can go wrong means the Mary problem isn't even defined in a way that makes sense. It's a totally inadequate thought experiment and does not support dualism.

I could go on with many more examples. The point is that dualist philosophy tells us nothing about any of the discoveries about the brain, neither confirms tham or is confirmed by them. In fact the historic view of the dualist mind, some sort of non-physical centre located in the brain, is discredted because much of our mind's operations are enacted by distributed interconnecting parts of the brain, and even outside the brain when it comes to the manifestation of empotional responses. Another example of how the dualist mind has had to retreat to some other world.

Many core properties of the self and the mind that the dualist expects the mind have can be isolated and localised, or mental processes can be examined in isolation. To be compatible with all this the dualist view would have to go much further than it does. It would have to explain how this mind entity interacts with the physical brain to explain these localisations of effects - micro-psychokinetics is just a fancy name for what the dualist mind is supposed to do, there is no evidence for it. Dualism would have to show something that was compatible with brain science results, but it does not. There is no science of dualism, only metaphysical speculation.

enigMan said...

Hi Ron, thanks for all that; I'm again pressed for time today, but I'm wondering, what if you're right? Then we're highly evolved apes; and like everything else that lives, we exist today because our ancestors were good at reproducing. Maybe dogmatic theists will turn out to be better at reproducing than logical scientists. Or maybe the rats will take over the earth. The question that arises is what is truth, and why should we care about it? If the reasons given are pragmatic then what if group identity and dogmatism prove to be better for the survival of the group? Note that the technological advantages conveyed by science might be obtained simply by employing scientists. People value truth, but also pleasure, security and such. If they can get the latter without caring too much about the former, is that wrong, in your opinion? If not, then what does it matter if theism is false? It matters to atheists, and it would matter to some theists, but then the pop charts matter to some pop fans and pop artists. So what?

Anyway, re dualism, there isn't much of a theory of dualism around. I want to develop a better one myself. But I think it's needed largely for theistic reasons, e.g. for theistic psychology. And there are some good reasons for the lack of a theory. Theory development is sociologically driven, and there's little scientific interest in dualism, and (for different reasons) little theological interest too. But much of what you say about neuroscience is irrelevent. Dualism posits a soul as well as a brain. The soul is basically there to do whatever the brain doesn't do. The brain can be examined by neuroscience. We might one day know a great deal about it via observations. We can also know a great deal about psychology, in principle. If we subtract the former from the latter, we have some idea of what the soul does. Then there can be different theories of what souls do. But first we need a good psychology and a good neuroscience. So the development of dualistic theories of the soul really needs, on good scientific grounds, to await developments in psychology and neuroscience. Insofar as it doesn't wait on them, it makes a hash of it. You seem to be equating dualism with such hashes. That is like identifying chemistry with alchemy, and then thinking that the early chemists were refuting chemistry!

Incidentally, the best theory of chemistry happens to be quantum mechanics, whose most natural interpretation was the Copenhagen one. The most natural alternative, favoured by Einstein, was hidden variables, which were recently refuted empirically. And quantum mechanics under the Copenhagen interpretation is remarkably coherent with dualism. In fact, most of those who disagree with that interpretation don't do so on empirical, scientific grounds, but for that very reason.

And all the evidence from neuroscience isn't evidence for physicalism, but evidence for what the brain contributes to mind, which is the result of a soul-brain interaction on dualism. Many years ago the basic dualistic theory was that the mind was the soul, and the brain cooled the blood (while the heart heated it). But then, many years ago the best theories of chemistry were alchemical. It's true that theologians have tended to keep their theories in the face of the evidence, but then they resembled Einstein in that respect. And theologians can change; but in any case, dualism itself is surely independent of whatever theologians do. Dualism ought to be identified with the best theory we could ever get of it, much as physicalism ought to be identified with the best theory we could ever get of it, not with some really bad theory that I happen to like because I can refute it easily. Still, it is up to the dualists to come up with better theories.

Science does give us lots of evidence that correlates with physicalism, but it also correlates with dualism. And science only gives us evidence because it is carried out in the real world, and the real world itself gives us facts that are incompatible with every physicalism I've ever heard of, but are compatible with dualism. Such facts include awareness and responsibility. I don't have any theistic theory of responsibility in mind, because there is, so far as I know, no good one yet (and similarly for awareness). A physicalist can explain away responsibility, but a dualist could possibly leave it as a metaphysical primitive. Similarly for awareness. Such primitives seem odd if they're tacked onto a physical world. But under theism they aren't. The physical world is added to a pre-existing world of awareness and responsibility and such. That is why dualism is associated with theism.

Idealists can explain away physical objects. After all, all our evidence is actually in the form of sense impressions and hypotheticals. Can physicalists explain away awareness? If consciousness is an illusion, who is having the illusion? Maybe, but what is certain is that the primary evidence from the physical world around us is not directly for physicalism. Such evidence has the form of sense impressions and hypotheticals. Only the dualist need not try to explain away either the physical or the mental. That gives it a considerable advantage. There is an objection that dualism is profligate, compared to monism; but note that even physicalists have mass/energy and space/time, unless they can reduce on of those pairs to the other. Dualisms are very natural. In fact, they're very logical. Our language gives us subjects and predicates, and we often resolve paradoxes by clarifying some old term into two new terms. The distinction between soul and brain is a very natural distinction to make. Neuroscience tells us a lot about the brain, but it does absolutely nothing to undermine the reasons for positing a soul as well.

Gut feelings cannot be relied upon to the extent to which you appear to rely on them. You have the gut feeling that there is a God of some sort, you are also attracted to dualism, but you offer no evidence.

That appearance is deceptive. I think that gut feelings give us some evidence, I don't think that they provide sufficient evidence all by themselves. Regarding evidence, my claim was that I could have evidence that I could not simply offer to you. Much the same is true of history, astronomy, and indeed, neuroscience.

plus all the evidence that counters dualism, plus all the evidence that supports physicalism

So you claim to have this evidence, and yet you can't show it to me!

The physical is the most basic: minerals, complex chemicals, DNA, prokaryote, eukaryote, multi-cellular, ..., first nervous systems, simple nervous systems like Aplysia, simpler mammals, appearance of the neocortex, primate brains, human brains. There is a continuum of evolutionary development that has lead to the human brain. When did dualism pop into existence and why? You can't even say what the properties of the dualist mind are. Vague notions of 'what it is to be like something' are often used by dualist, but they are hopelessly inadequate; juggling with words in a philosophical manner.

An Idealist would disagree with the first bit, but I agree. Still, the basic evidence is sensory, not that atoms exist. That atoms exist is theoretical, hypothetical, explanatory. Anyway, physical structures have indeed changed over time, and I have no problem with evolution by natural selection. Bacteria and viruses are mechanical, I suppose, and cats and dogs may well have souls. There is no evidence that some animals have souls and others don't, so far as I know. So my dualism is agnostic about that. There is no evidence about when souls appeared. Dualistic theories can accomodate all sorts of possibilities. I think that God made souls in Heaven first, and then created this world so that we could be here via brains, for some reason. I have theories about why and how. But I await scientific evidence. Should I not await the evidence? The properties of the soul are like the properties of the Newtonian action-at-a-distance that was his theory of gravity. They are just those indicated by the evidence, no more, no less. Even then, the precise terminology might be wrong. That is the way of science. You should not reject the Newtonian theory because of some metaphysical prejudice against spooky action at a distance, should you?

enigMan said...

Hi again (I was timed off my computer, but I got on another one:) To me, your complaints against dualism remind me a little of Berkeley's complaints against Newton, despite your avowed rejection of metaphysics; not that I'm like Newton (or you much like Berkeley), but the situation with dualism is a bit like the pre-Newtonian situation in astronomy. There is actually some evidence for micro-PK - e.g. see Entangled Minds - and although I would probably agree with many of your complaints about such "evidence" still, there it is, like the early evidence for the Copernican view. It annoys the mainstream, but the most creative scientists are often intrigued by it. I would suggest that science takes a closer look at such evidence. Most scientists would not bother. They think they already know that it must be bogus (cf. the faithful astronomers). The irony is that they then complain about the lack of evidence for dualism! I understand that we can't look at any old rubbish, that we have to prejudge what we examine closely. So I don't expect results any time soon. But therefore the irony: the existing evidence is quite compatible with there being something apposite behind some of it.

I don't myself believe in micro-PK because of such evidence as Radin compiles. Perhaps I should. You seem to be suggesting that I go with such public and repeatable evidence rather than my own experiences. But I would want to take a closer look at Radin's "evidence". I would want to be there, in the laboratory, seeing what was going on, and with the power to control what I wanted to control. But of course, the problem is as always funding. I can't afford to do that. But what I can do is to observe micro-PK effects in the world around me. Such things won't convince you of course, but why should they not be good enough for me? (If I can't judge my own experiences, then I could hardly judge laboratory experiments; but then, why should I not just take Radin's word for it?)

Anyway, in view of my own experiences I judge that there are micro-PK effects, and that they're common enough (if any of what Radin has been doing is not faked or pure incompetence) for micro-PK in such external expressions to be very similar to the micro-PK that a Platonic dualist might wish to posit for the soul-brain interaction (that gives rise to mind). I wonder what you objection to that could be (?) I would be interested in talking more about my experiences (naturally), with you (since you're way less wrong about the basics than most people, I gather, despite my comments above); indeed, I could even demonstrate them to you, but only if you were here and had a few days to waste. I can't afford to demonstrate them to other people at my expense, and don't expect other people to come to me. That's just the pragmatic way of things. I guess we're all still waiting for some rich genius to give us the demonstrations, much as science in the past waited for Newton and Darwin and such.

brain science has many examples where very localised brain damage can disrupt many abilities that we would intuitively attribute to the mind.

I agree. That's why I am convinced that dualists should associate mind with a soul-brain interaction, and give the brain what science indicates it should have. There would be interesting implications in theology of doing that, and so I imagine that theologians won't like my suggestions. Traditionally, dualists have talked of a mind/body dualism, but I think that was wrong. Had the brain turned out to be a device for cooling the blood, it might have been right. But note that the eliptical orbits of the planets don't refute the Copernican view, with its circular orbits. What they do is to lead towards the Newtonian theory of gravity. Similarly, I hope that neuroscience leads theists to a more mature theory of the soul. Neuroscience is no threat to dualism, despite what physicalists wish. As I say, I've yet to see any evidence at all to the contrary.

Incidentally, I'm not that fond of Mary the colour scientist. I like the Chinese room argument, but my main reasons for favouring dualism are that it's a basic belief (the division into the physical and the mental) and we've no empirical evidence against it. Psychology is really in its very early days, and a methodological naturalism there wouldn't assume dualism or physicalism at the moment. The dualism it should be agnostic about should be one that regards mind as a soul-brain interaction. There needs to be a soul for the mental to exist, but that doesn't mean that the soul does all the work. Similarly, there needs to be a driver for a car to move around a city, but the driver does very little except point the car most of the time, and speed it up and slow it down. The car was designed for that very purpose. Someone watching a city might see little evidence of drivers. And cars could in theory move themselves about, or be moved by some computer. It just happens to be the case that it was people who put the cars and the cities there to serve them.

Cities evolve of course, in awkward ways; and brains evolved. The whole story will be very complex. But substantial dualists think that brains exist in order to be used by souls (property dualists think that minds are produced by brains, and so are more like physicalists than dualists I think). And the main evidence for souls is the Chinese room. How can molecules, in whatever number and of whatever complexity, give rise to an individual's awareness? You ask for a dualistic theory, but where is the physicalistic theory?

Ron Murphy said...

Hi,

I agree entirely with your first paragraph. Evolutionarily it's all up for grabs. It would be my contention that evolution has, with no purpose or agency implied, favoured a big brained hominid. How this came about is still speculative, all though clues are provided from many sources which have lead to a number of interesting hypotheses.

I think dualism taken together with theism does form dependent set - they both attribute agency to possibly non-physical, probably supernatural, entities. They are inter-dependent to a degree, though I don't think necessarily so.

I can conceive (see later on imagination) of God as creator-agent that interacts with an entirely phyisicalist based mind; but that would have serious implications for some specific theologies that consider issues like evil, good, responsibility, culpability, free-will, etc., which can be explained and can be used, but aren't required, in a physicalist view - it would imply non-interactive deism, or if God continued to interact it would imply we are mere puppets.

I can also conceive of a non-theistic universe, the origin and outer form of which we do not yet know, but were some as yet undetected life force constitutes the mind. But this would beg the question of where it is. It's fine to bring it up as a hypothesis, but where do you take it from there, where's the evidence.

I find it far easier and far more consistent to discard both God and the dualist mind, first because I think the philosophical arguments alone are strong enough and consistent enough, and second because there is no evidence of God or dualist mind and plenty of physical evidence that is consistent with a physicalist view.

"Theory development is sociologically driven, and there's little scientific interest in dualism, and (for different reasons) little theological interest too." - I disagree. Theism is all it's varieties has been battling with atheism, and even with contradictory theisms, for centuries, I think Epicurus being the first recorded. Organisations like the Templeton Foundation are created specifically to interpret science form a theistic point of view, though not very successfully, and the Intelligent Design group, whether Creationists or not do the same. Can you imagine the impact if it could be demonstrated that intercessionary prayer worked - of course it has been tested and shown to be as useless as dowsing. Evidence for God or dualism that was repeatable in double blind trials would bring God and dualism into the mainstream. The motivation is there, but the results are not.

"If we subtract the former from the latter, we have some idea of what the soul does." - No. What you call the soul can be interpreted as the holistic interaction of the brain, body and environment of an individual. Physicalists are often accused of reductionism - "you can't determine the whole person from what goes on in the brain; the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; etc." Physicalists would agree - there is a lot of complex interaction between the brain and other parts of the body. When you see someone you love it causes physiologically measurable changes in the brain and the body. I'd say the reductionism is being perpetrated on the part of theists and dualists who attribute these extremely complex physiological changes to very simple general terms like 'feeling', 'mind', 'soul' - see comments on complexity later.

"So the development of dualistic theories of the soul really needs, on good scientific grounds, to await developments in psychology and neuroscience. Insofar as it doesn't wait on them, it makes a hash of it." - Yes.

"You seem to be equating dualism with such hashes." - Yes.

"That is like identifying chemistry with alchemy, and then thinking that the early chemists were refuting chemistry!" - They weren't refuting chemistry, not successfully, no more than dualism is refuting the physicalist implications of various sciences, one of which is neuroscience. Dualism, like alchemy, is an alternative view, and like alchemy, lacks evidence for its effect.

Awareness - Awareness is merely how an object responds and can be measured on a scale from completely passive to what might be called interactive, and is given an attribute of agency that correlates to some extent to the complexity of the interaction. If a stationary rock is hit by a falling rock it moves - in that sense this is the most basic passive response, or anthropomorphically, awareness. Chemicals interact in reactions, in ways that appear so complex that we can attribute anthropomorphic agency to them too - we say they react. Simple cellular creatures can be seen to respond to their environment under a microscope - we attribute simple agency, we say they are aware: this organism detects that one and devours it. This attribution of agency and awareness we apply up the evolutionary scale. We certainly apply it quite naturally to our pets, and even to inanimate objects like our cars. It's quite natural when driving to pick up on what we might call the body-language of a car - I've often anticipated, from minute signals, that a car or lorry is about to pull out without signalling, without being able to see the driver. The most complex organism of course is human, in which self-awareness is so complex that we take it for granted and attribute to it models such as the mind and the soul, when really there is no evidence that these entities exist in any sense, and plenty of evidence that they are simply extensions of what happens in all physical entities.

Responsibility - An attribute, like culpability, blame, morality, which we assign to self aware entities because historically these attributions developed naturally along with the evolution of the brain to the extent that we consider them to be real, and so we have difficulty accepting the consequences of the physicalist view. After thousands of years we have justice systems that struggle with the ambiguities associated with responsibility and free-will, the extent to which we can blame someone in a given situation and to what extent they are the product of their environment and so might not be responsible. The physicalist view is far simpler and more objective.

"...could possibly leave it as a metaphysical primitive." - But there is no need to. Why would you want to? And theists don't do that of course because these 'primitives' are a consequence of the first metaphysical primitive - God.

"If consciousness is an illusion, who is having the illusion?" - Not 'who', but 'what' is having the illusion is the correct question - you are already mistakenly anthropomorphising. The answer is the physical organism is having the illusion. So what is an illusion in that sense? It's simply a response, a way the brain models an entity or an event, giving it agency - the brain holds representations of objects, including the brain and body in which it is contained. When a cheetah runs down it's prey, dealing with uneven terrain, tracking the path of the prey, we might consider that in basic engineering terms - the physiological 'emotional' hunger that drives the overall action, the visual input and the motor control that minutely directs the movement, the automatic response that makes the cheetah bite down when it leaps on its prey, or exhaustion that makes it give up the chase before the catch - these are automatic responses of a complex system, which we might attribute in an anthropomorphic way to the cheetah's intent to catch a meal. In humans it has been measured that the automatic system is so complex and acts at a higher speed than thought processes; a tennis player 'consciously' taking a shot actually starts the shot before he is aware of it that there is nothing 'conscious' about it, and this is backed up by various measurements of the nervous system. It's all so automatic that and so measurable, but what we attribute to consciousness is an artifact.

This appears to leave nothing for consciousness to do. Again, don't fall into the reductionist trap of associating 'feeling' with consciousness and awareness in some other-worldly dualist sense. It just isn't necessary.

"Dualisms are very natural." - Yes, all explainable as a notional model in a physical brain. "In fact, they're very logical." - No more so than any other model.

"Our language ..." - Our language has developed along with our brain and will naturally employ the same models, so this doesn't really tell us anything. Other creatures have language - Bonobo's have a well documented language capability.

"The distinction between soul and brain is a very natural distinction to make." - Yes, as an economical (reductionist, but not in a pejorative sense) descriptive model that evolved in the brain as it evolved.

"Neuroscience tells us a lot about the brain, but it does absolutely nothing to undermine the reasons for positing a soul as well." - Nor does it tell us anything about the perception of ghosts, fairies, or anything else. Neuroscience does give us a description of the brain that is compatible with the physicalist model, but of course, if there is no evidence, it will not give us evidence of the mind or soul. That's up to dualist theorists to do. It's no accident that dualists are still working in the realm of metaphysics that were prominent centuries ago - they have made no progress because there is no evidence. They continue to use arguments that were in vogue centuries or decades ago, for which there are adequate counter arguments. There is nothing new to the dualist case.

"I think that gut feelings give us some evidence" - No, really, I insist. Gut feelings give you an idea to work with, a hypothesis. The strength of feeling may determine your conviction to that hypothesis and might drive your investigation, but you should also be aware that they can cloud your investigation too. Give me one example of gut feeling in science that is in fact the evidence and not simply the motivation to look for the evidence. There are plenty of examples of the latter, and plenty were gut feeling or commitment to a hypothesis clouded the investigation. The only evidence that gut feelings provide is that we have gut feelings; it takes science to investigate first what they, let alone what they mean and what else we can infer from them.

"Regarding evidence, my claim was that I could have evidence that I could not simply offer to you." - In that case what good is it? If I claimed I had evidence I could turn lead into gold economically (value of all inputs less than value of gold output) but I said I can't give you the evidence - I can't even give you any gold - what would you make of that claim? If you want to persist with a private belief in God and dualism, that's fine - physicalism isn't a dogmatic belief system, you're not going to be persecuted for heresy. But if that's all it is why have a discussion about it?

"Much the same is true of history, astronomy, and indeed, neuroscience." - Not really. I don't see how. Sure, different historians might put different interpretations on the events described in historical documents, but so what? That's always the case with any area of study. I might take on board a particular historians view, either because all the evidence he musters seems most coherent, or even because I simply prefer his version. The same is true of astronomy - at the limits of astronomical knowledge, on the edges of cosmology, I might favour someone's pet theory. In neuroscience I might be persuaded by the evidence from one of the current studies. But in all these I can be persuaded to take a different view, either because I have learned more about what evidence is available, or because new evidence becomes available. This is how life works in general, even socially, where our first impressions of people can change as we get to know them. Science isn't magical, and it doesn't have access to absolute knowledge. No human does. Consequently we recognise we can be mistaken, and so issues of responsibility have to be considered in this light. This is quite unlike theism generally, which attributes responsibility on the basis of what some dogmatic scripture dictates about absolute knowledge of right and wrong, good and evil; a view which is counter to how we know fallible humans actually work.

"There is no evidence that some animals have souls and others don't" - Correct. Including humans.

"Dualistic theories can accommodate all sorts of possibilities." - More generally I would agree that the human brain, as a pattern building and pattern recognition system, is capable, in what we call human imagination, of construction all sorts of abstract models that can explain anything we choose. We simply invent stories. We can invent stores of Norse gods, of fairies, of flying spaghetti monsters, of whole Tolkienesk worlds. But we don't live our lives in these fictitious worlds. Instead we try to make sense of what we loosely call the real world, mainly and most consistently through science, that attributes the most confidence to those ideas interpretations and theories that have the most evidentiary support.

"I think that God made souls in Heaven first, and then created this world so that we could be here via brains, for some reason." - Nice fantasy story. So what? But more to the point, why do you believe that? Where did that notion originate?

"I have theories about why and how." - You mean you have speculative hypotheses? I would be interested to discuss any specific idea if you wish.

"Should I not await the evidence?" - Either that or find it yourself, and if the latter I'd be interested.

"The properties of the soul are like ..." - By your definition or from evidence? If by your definition, then fine, we can define whatever we want, I could come up with my own definition, just as SL came up with the God of Eth. If by evidence, I think not. So, when you say what the properties of the soul are, how do you know this?

"You should not reject the Newtonian theory because of some metaphysical prejudice against spooky action at a distance, should you?" - No, but if there were no evidence for it, it would have been rejected. If it is a strange anomaly that goes counter to our interpretation of causality then we look for a better explanation. In the meantime this doesn't mean we have to throw out all of Newtonian science. In terms of the dualist mind, there is no equivalent to the action at a distance; there is no mind effect to create an anomaly; so the comparison isn't a good one.

I saw the Horizon that included Dean Radin's work. Some of the work from IONS includes investigations into how fighter pilots appear to make decisions before they consciously do so, and how the time frame in which the decisions are made implies that the decision is made before the brain activity is detected. But this is compatible with other evidence that says the response being performed is consistent with a standard view, and indeed the physicalist view, because the action being performed is automatic - the conscious brain becomes aware of it after the event.

In the specific interview you cited Radin mentions the experiences of Edgar Michell, the founder of IONS. But his mystical experiences are nothing special. When he explains Noetics as a way of knowing, of an intuitive knowledge, as an alternative to rational analytical knowledge, this isn't anything different to what is known about the way the human as a whole reacts under some conditions. The brain and its interaction with its environment is so complex that a sudden rush of pattern recognition that triggers some feeling of fuller knowing, of oneness, and so on.

Take Radin's point of view on meta-analysis. He compares the effect sizes for his meta-analysis in his field compared to the use of meta-analysis in pharmaceuticals. He states that his meta-analysis results are better than those for the use of aspirin to prevent second heart attacks. Well, that's no great claim. Beatrice Golomb has often provided evidence of conflict of interest in pharmaceuticals. Failure to publish negative results is one issue, and the propensity to the multiple publication of positive results, sufficiently disguised, is another, that skews meta-analysis. Try this Youtube link: [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_Oc2xElvL4]. Radin seems to be saying "Well, this meta-analysis is good enough for the FDA, and is considered mainstream, so why shouldn't my meta-analysis be considered?" - Well, bad science is bad science. So, which studies does Radin include in his meta-analysis? Until his work can be assessed in this regard I'm not convinced he has anything. From Wikipedia on meta-analysis, "A weakness of the method is that sources of bias are not controlled by the method. A good meta-analysis of badly designed studies will still result in bad statistics." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meta-analysis.

"the most creative scientists are often intrigued by it" - Well, creativity is an odd thing. Again I refer you to Ramachandran's work on synesthesia - it is most prevalent in the brains of the most artistic members of society, such as artists and poets. This gives them the ability to link together ideas from different senses. So, what's the difference between creative science and fantasy? Creative science takes those novel ideas and applies the scientific method to them. So I'm not decrying creativity, it can be a great insightful springboard; but I am saying that alone will not do all the hard meticulous rigorous work that science requires. A hunch that turns out to be correct is valued because it has been confirmed by other means - prior to confirmation it was just a hunch.

"I would suggest that science takes a closer look at such evidence." - Science does do occasionally. I've seen reports of investigations into intercessionary prayer and dowsing, for example. They come up with no positive result. The practitioners, however, go away still believing in their abilities and continue to make positive claims based on their 'experiences'. Again, not reporting negative results, making positive claims of supportive result, even if down to luck. Bad science.

"So I don't expect results any time soon." - Nor do I, because there is no positive evidence that stands up to scrutiny.

"But therefore the irony: the existing evidence is quite compatible with there being something apposite behind some of it." - Our experience of earth gravity is consistent with magic beings compelling us towards the earth, but of course we don't consider that as a possibility because there is no evidence of those beings, and there is far more to gravity than what we personally feel here on earth. Similarly, there is a lot more to physicalist science, as a whole, that leads us to conclude that the only evidence we have is of a physical world. Claims are made of supernatural concepts, whether it be God, dualism, ESP, whatever; but if they were real we would expect to have repeatable experiences, and even more so scientific results, that directly contradict the physical sciences: there would be video recordable mass revelations of God, of miracles, of paranormal events, we would be able to read each others minds, there would be evidence of poltergeists performing anti-gravity feats - but there isn't.

"I would want to be there, in the laboratory, seeing what was going on, and with the power to control what I wanted to control." - But that misses the point; that wouldn't be enough, it would become your personal testimony that might satisfy you but not the scientific community. If you want to witness the paranormal just go to a Darren Brown event - at least with him you know you are going to see some 'real' action, not some miniscule almost imperceptible event, it just won't be really 'real'. The real science requires multiple tests at multiple sites by independent researchers. You mentioned Copernicus - if we had only his say-so to go by we might well be sceptical to this day, but of course his ideas were confirmed and developed further by multiple sources. The fact that his idea (borrowed from Islamic texts) was more right than the Ptolemaic geocentric view doesn't matter. The fact that he was right and many people at the time where sceptical is consistent with the current view in evolutionary psychology is that false negatives offer better survival than false positives - better to mistake the stick for a snake and be fearful rather than mistake a snake for a stick and be bitten.

"I can't judge my own experiences, then I could hardly judge laboratory experiments;" - You shouldn't unless multiple independent confirmations and the lack of serious falsifications provides some degree of confidence.

"...and but then, why should I not just take Radin's word for it?" - For the reasons outlined above. Why not try Susan Blackmore. She started out in paranormal research because she had an out of body experience. She studied it for years, concluded that there was nothing in it and is now an advocate for physicalism and has done some work with Dan Dennett on consciousness and concludes consciousness is an illusion. So, just because you've had some very convincing unexplained experience doesn't mean you have to take a leap of faith.

"soul-brain interaction" - The emotions and feelings within the body are closely related to thoughts in the brain - feedback in both directions in really complicated ways that aren't yet understood. But enough is known to be able to describe all this in physiological terms. There is no need for the soul, unless you want it so that you can support theism - and am not keen on inventing one fantasy to support another.

"Had the brain turned out to be a device for cooling the blood..." - That was a good idea, and closely associated with what anthropologists think is the case - that the human sweat mechanism evolved to manage body and brain temperature by regulating blood temperature.

"I hope that neuroscience leads theists to a more mature theory of the soul." - I'd say it is doing - the physiological physicalist view that sees the soul and mind as models that can convenient short-hands for complex systems. The requirement for a separate supernatural soul, mind, God, are all ideas developed by pre-scientific humans - all good ideas at the time, but it's now time to move on.

"Neuroscience is no threat to dualism." - Nor is astronomy a threat to astrology. You can believe what you want to believe in the face of lack of evidence.

"I've yet to see any evidence at all to the contrary." - I've yet to see evidence that astrology is wrong, since every day the astrological predictions work for me. The fact that the predictions for every star sign also work for me is not evidence that it doesn't work; but I'd say it is evidence that it is useless. And so with dualism - science can't prove it wrong, but it doesn't need to, because the evidence supports physicalism quite satisfactorily, and the concept of the dualist mind offers nothing beneficial, unless you're a theist, but why be a theist in the first place?

"my main reasons for favouring dualism are that it's a basic belief (the division into the physical and the mental) and we've no empirical evidence against it." - I think we are back to were we started, with me saying it is a hypothesis that you happen to hold without evidence.

"There needs to be a soul for the mental to exist" - Why? How do you know this? We seem to be back in the realm of bold unsubstantiated claims.

"Similarly, there needs to be a driver for a car to move around a city..." - That isn't true - see next but one paragraph. This is nothing more than the Intelligent Design argument and God of the Gaps - we design things so we assume everything is designed, or we appear to act as agents so there must be agency somewhere, we can't explain something so we invent agents. This isn't an adequate metaphor.

"but the driver does very little except point the car most of the time, and speed it up and slow it down." - But this simply isn't true. Do you drive? Do you remember being a learner, all the specifically intentional things you had to make you body do, in order to control the car, and not very well to begin with. With experience all this is handed over to the automatic system - not only the neurons in the brain, but other parts of the body. The muscles and nervous system as a whole are working as one large pattern recognising associative control system, with little conscious thought. This is completely compatible with physicalism.

An interesting video on the TED site, which unfortunately you say you can't get to, shows small devices, 'creatures', that mimic the operation of insect legs operating as a set. Each leg is implemented as simple spring-mass-damper system. The creatures have no electronic brain, but remarkably when they are set in motion they have an uncanny ability to navigate extremely complex terrains with an apparent determination (anthropomorphism, obviously) that mimics real insects. NASA is reviewing the model as possible rough terrain vehicles.

"Someone watching a city might see little evidence of drivers...." - "Cities evolve of course, in awkward ways; and brains evolved." - "The whole story will be very complex." Yes. So, agency can be apparent, even in inanimate objects. It's deceptively complex, and this is what I think many dualist don't seem to grasp. They'd rather posit instead some dualist mind or soul, conveniently vague, that is supposed to embody this agency. Now you're getting into memetics, and temetics, an interesting topic in itself. You couldn't get to the TED site, but can you get to this, which shows a video from TED - it's Sue Blackmore on memetics and temetics: http://memebox.com/futureblogger/show/601-might-temetics-be-the-answer-

"And the main evidence for souls is the Chinese room." - You mean Searle's Chinese room? How? No way! Let's discuss.

"How can molecules, in whatever number and of whatever complexity, give rise to an individual's awareness? You ask for a dualistic theory, but where is the physicalistic theory?" - God of the gaps again. By thinking about some nebulous entity like the soul or mind I think you are trying to read into biological life what isn't there. It is clear from watching ant colonies, where each individual has a tiny fraction of the number of neurons that humans do, yet when they all interact physically, chemically, they can perform amazingly complex behaviours. Now, from your argument alone (that complexity isn't sufficient) the ants shouldn't be able to do what they do, but of course they do do it. Simpler organisms have been studied - Eric Kandels work on Aplysia - that show that complex behaviours can be learned from simple stimulation of individual neurons. We're talking of the interaction of about a dozen neurons here. The human brain has about 100 billion neurons and many more supporting glial cells; and the interconnections between the neurons is obviously extremely complex. On top of that we have the whole physiological interaction of the brain with the rest of the body and the outer environment. This is maga-complex stuff. I don't think the dualist, with his twee notion that the whole of a human's being is wrapped up in some mind or soul, is in a position to say what complexity can and can't do.

Physicalists in general, and neuroscientists in particular, are well aware of the vast complexity they are dealing with. Labs all over the world are putting together minute pieces, whether they are investigating neuron activity, genetics, medicine, psychology, whatever. The point is that all they have been finding tends to slip into place, confirming results elsewhere, explaining anomalies found somewhere else, begging more questions for further research.

The ideas proposed by a theologians and philosophers that still live in the dark ages are insignificant in their scope when compared to this vast body of science. Theologians are using something like 10-20 arguments, often the same ones rehashed, and restated in spite of good counter arguments. This is old news. And the response to challenges isn't to provide real evidence but to hide behind endless smokescreens of flaky logic.

It may be an imperfect and fallible science run by imperfect and fallible scientists, but with far greater and more consistent and rigorous credibility than any theologian can muster.

enigMan said...

bring God and dualism into the mainstream

You have a very non-standard view of the mainstream. There are billions of theists today. And billions of people presume a common sense dualism.

Awareness is merely how an object responds and can be measured on a scale from completely passive to what might be called interactive, and is given an attribute of agency that correlates to some extent to the complexity of the interaction. If a stationary rock is hit by a falling rock it moves - in that sense this is the most basic passive response, or anthropomorphically, awareness.

Well, by 'awareness' I didn't mean that; I meant the noun that accompanies 'aware' or having knowledge or experience of something. A rock has no amount of awareness, so far as we know. People clearly do. How would you explain the existence of an individual that experiences subjective states? If you don't understand the difference between experiencing something and responding to something then you won't get the intended meaning of that question. But if so then our uses of English are so different that communication must be impossible between us. But again, note that billions of people do understand their natural languages in the way my question requires. In fact, I suspect that you do know what I mean, that you just don't wish to admit in the current context that you cannot answer my question.

the physical organism is having the illusion

That's the question: how can any physical thing have an illusion, when to have an illusion one has to have awareness?

"Neuroscience tells us a lot about the brain, but it does absolutely nothing to undermine the reasons for positing a soul as well." - Nor does it tell us anything about the perception of ghosts, fairies, or anything else. Neuroscience does give us a description of the brain that is compatible with the physicalist model

Is it compatible, that's the question! There are other explanations for why people think they see ghosts and fairies. There is (as yet) no explanation of how a sufficiently complex robot could acquire awareness (could become an individual subject) through its complexity.

If I claimed I had evidence I could turn lead into gold economically (value of all inputs less than value of gold output) but I said I can't give you the evidence - I can't even give you any gold - what would you make of that claim?

I would say that I don't need evidence. If you're right you can make lots of money; what's that to me? I would not believe you because you would be saying it to me rather than making lots of money. Furthermore there aren't billions of people who think that any one could turn lead into gold economically. There may be a few though. Similarly some people look into cold fusion. They must speak for themselves. This discussion began because I was questioning your claim that theistic uses of 'probability' require calculations based on evidence that we don't have.

We can invent stores of Norse gods, of fairies, of flying spaghetti monsters, of whole Tolkienesk worlds. But we don't live our lives in these fictitious worlds. Instead we try to make sense of what we loosely call the real world

What goes by the name of 'theism' today is usually (in philosophical circles) the monotheism that developed as a progressive reaction to such pre-monotheistic gods and such. Furthermore the real world that we clearly live in, as conscious continuants, is of course a mental construction build from sensory inputs. We live in a colourful, three-dimensional world. Imagine a room you know, empty of people. Do you imagine it flooded with all sorts of electromagnetic and other particles? If so, how do you imagine such particles to be? Or do you imagine it as it would be were you there, with your human sensory organs?

Why not try Susan Blackmore. She started out in paranormal research because she had an out of body experience. She studied it for years, concluded that there was nothing in it and is now an advocate for physicalism and has done some work with Dan Dennett on consciousness and concludes consciousness is an illusion.

I'm agnostic about Radin, as I say. His meta-analyses may be flawed. But he defends them in 'Entangled Minds' and of course, the scientific studies you do accept may be flawed. Susan was wrong and reacted to being wrong. That's a reason to be suspicious of her new belief that consciousness is an illusion. If I hold a naive belief about socialism and then discover it's naive, that doesn't show that less naive forms of socialism aren't better than all the alternatives. Of course.

This is maga-complex stuff. I don't think the dualist, with his twee notion that the whole of a human's being is wrapped up in some mind or soul, is in a position to say what complexity can and can't do.

But I'm a dualist, and I get the complexity (and many of the dualists that I read do too). Compare what physicists say about matter. As physics developed, they thought of matter in more complex ways. Now they talk of super-strings and m-branes. One day those might seem as twee as the idea that atoms are like little stones. So, if dualists had been less imperfect (i.e. if dualism had been as unpopular as science was (and in many ways still is)) then dualism would have been very similar. When we knew little, and atoms were like little stones, we put a lot of mental stuff into the life of the soul. Nowadays we would do it differently. That is not a retreat of dualism in the face of evidence, it is the natural development of the scientific theory of soul-brain dualism. Or at least, it could be seen that way, if one wanted to be fair.

Ron Murphy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron Murphy said...

Hi,

By mainstream I meant mainstream science. Yes there are billions of people who presume dualism - I agree because I think it is an economical model for describing something that is extremely complex now, and historically there wasn't any way of examining the mind in other than a general context, there wasn't any science. And of course it is still a presumption, a hypothesis. It still hasn't any scientific evidence to support it. The evolved tendency to attribute agency to the cause of unexplained events may encourage the presumption of ghosts or fairies, but there is no evidence for them.

"A rock has no amount of awareness, so far as we know." - In the sense that you and I would normally mean it I agree. My point is that the attribute we normally call awareness is itself an illusion. See below.

"How would you explain the existence of an individual that experiences subjective states?" - Subjective states are just that, states of the brain, or if they involve physical and emotional feeling then the state of the whole organism.

"If you don't understand the difference between experiencing something and responding to something then you won't get the intended meaning of that question." - I understand the common difference. I'm saying the difference is in degree and complexity. My point about the continuum from the rock to the human was that it is extent and complexity that is the difference.

Purely passive inanimate objects responds to external forces. Zero on the awareness scale, pure physical interaction. But it is common to attribute agency to inanimate objects. This is a natural response based on the false positive tendency that it is thought to be evolutionarily advantageous.

But obviously we don't fall for this anthropomorphic delusion, that inanimate objects have agency or awareness, because we reason that they have no mind. I'm saying that we do fall for that same illusion when it comes to human brains.

There's always a grey area. Do Bonobos have self awareness? Do they have dualistic minds? What about cats and dogs? What about mice and rats? What about lesser organisms? Where does the dualism stop going down the scale of complexity in organism? Where does it start coming up the scale?

Physicalim doesn't have this problem. It's all physical.

I don't have a problem with the language used. I'm happy to talk in one context of the human mind just as if it were the dualist mind, because in the specific context it is a convenient model. Similarly with awareness, I'm happy to use it as a model in the appropriate context. This is no different that the way ball and stick models are used to represent combinations of atoms. You may well hold the dualistic view of the mind as a representation of a real entity, I do not, I see it only as a model.

"But again, note that billions of people do understand their natural languages in the way my question requires." - They may do. They may be wrong. As you said earlier, claims for numbers don't matter, especially in this context since the billions you talk of includes a great number that are not educated enough to understand what we are talking about. You'll also find that billions have no idea what some theologians are on about when they discuss the finer details of their theologies. The greater mass of people on this planet believe what their parents and cultural leaders tell them to believe. And some theologies aren't too kind to disbelievers. Anyway, thorough dualism with regard to the mind only really took hold with Descartes. Before that there was the theological notion of the soul. Ideas change.

"I suspect that you do know what I mean, that you just don't wish to admit in the current context that you cannot answer my question." - Yes, I do know what you mean. I'm not sure what I'm not admitting to, or which particular question I haven't answered. Is it the following?

"That's the question: how can any physical thing have an illusion, when to have an illusion one has to have awareness?" - You're begging the question. There is no evidence that awareness exists in your terms, especially since there is no evidence of a separate mind that is first required in order to have the awareness in your sense. So, without showing there is such a mind, and hence such an awareness you can't say that illusion requires such a thing, or say what illusion is.

I'll try to start from some physicalist basics. I know you get this stuff, but it's the progression, the extension, that's significant, so I hope you don't think I'm patronising. I'm just saying that if you graps the physical contiuum from the ground up there's no need for a mind as a separate entity.

Simple organic systems without what we would call a central nervous system still respond to their environment. The complex locomotion of organism appears to us to have agency, as if they are actively doing something. But we don't attribute awareness to them.

Those with a basic nervous system are able to perform really complex tasks. Aplysia has around 20,000 neurons and has a relatively simple behaviour that amounts to feeding and reproduction. It has some awareness of its surroundings - it responds to certain stimuli by ejecting ink, or withdrawing its syphon. It can learn (memorise) behaviour too, depending on the stimuli - habituation, sensitisation and conditioning (all methods of learning we use too on a more complex level).

Wikipedia on Awareness - "Awareness is a term referring to the ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects or patterns, which does not necessarily imply understanding. In biological psychology, awareness comprises a human's or an animal's perception and cognitive reaction to a condition or event."

So, even Aplysia meets this criteria.

So, awareness in higher animals is simply how the brain models the environment. It is associated with response in that the outcome of the neurological interactions in the brain will cause motor actions in response to events in the environment. That's not just conscious motor actions, it's mostly automatic motor actions - that's why we don't have natural control over body language, and even then we can learn to control body language only to a limited extent. I think most dualists accept that many (most?) of our actions are unconscious, automatic - would you agree? Physicalists simply also include what we consider to be consciously instigated motor actions. Free-will action is simply normal automatic motor action that has been mediated by another part of the brain - what we refer to as the conscious part.

Self-awareness is simply an extension of this that allows a brain to be aware of what is happening in its own brain, and by proxy modelling, in the brains of others.

This obviously doesn't mean we have sensors actually in the brain - this would be too complex since in order to achieve that we would have to have something like a one-to-one correspondence of neurons that were 'thinking' and sensory neurons that detected what the thinking neurons did, and some mechanism for feeding back information to the thinking neurons.

Instead, for self-awareness, it is sufficient that the associative pattern recognition parts of the brain, what we think of as the conscious brain, are able to model the thought process itself.

If you watch a cat stalking a mouse it doesn't simply see the mouse and bolt for it. It monitors the activity of the mouse - it is 'aware' of it in an anthropomorphic sense, the cat's brain is taking in all the cues, the brain is automatically performing pattern recognition, waiting for the right combination of learned behaviour that 'tells' the cat, or anthropomorphically the cat 'recognises', the moment to strike.

We, with our self-awareness, have a developed sense of empathy towards others - our brains are able to model what is happening in the brains of others, simply by association - not by actually reading minds, but by this acute high speed multilevel feedback monitoring mechanism that relies on our external senses. We meet someone, we smile tentatively, they see that and empathetically smile too, which encourages our smile. These social interactions happen in multiple feedback loops between people; we have this sense of knowing ourselves and of knowing other people. But it's all physiological, happening with such complexity and on such time scales that we don't see it. Although we see ourselves as using more of our cognitive abilities at the expense of our older automatic sensory abilities we now find that we still use many of the old systems intuitively, imperceptively - as has been shown when neither the men or the women are consciously aware of the effect of the women's ovulation on dating scenarios, or the appeal of mens' sweat to women. We do occasionally become aware of these feedback loops in action, when they go wrong. For example, when we subconsciously navigate a busy street, usually successfull, but then we meet someone coming the other way, we go left, they go our left, we switch right, they switch our right, until we meet with a fumbling excuse me. Or, when we go to shake someones hand, they don't repond until to late and offer their hand as we withdraw ours. If you start to monitor, become self-aware, of your actions at a fine grained level and keep asking, why did I do that particular thing instead of the other. When working and you need a pee, but you want to get the last few thoughts down, but you're becoming desperate, what happens, what is the final trigger that makes you go, is it all free-will?

Why can't we see this happening at a finer grain instinctively? Why do we operate at the higher level, interpreting events in terms of minds, awareness, emotions, free-will actions? We have evolved to operate economically at that level. As basic animals we have had no evolutionary need to look at the finer grain, so our senses are adapted to deal with what is sufficient, just as we have no natural need for good night vision, olfactory acuity, or auditory acuity, or just as we have no need to see down to the cellular level, or to the molecular level.

"There is (as yet) no explanation of how a sufficiently complex robot could acquire awareness (could become an individual subject) through its complexity." - There is an explanation, we just don't have the ability to implement it yet. Most of the earlier ideas about creating robot 'brains' have been rejected precisely because of what neuroscience has been learning over the last few decades - the algorithmic models couldn't provide the sophistication. In order to make something like the brain you would have to make something that was as complexly interconnected and associative, and that modelled learning (i.e. memory) in some way - which in the brain is achieved by the enhanced chemical changes for short term memory and the actual growth of interconnections for long term memory. In order for such a brain to appear like a hiuman brain it would have to acquire many human-like experiences.

We don't know what it is like to be a bat, not just because we don't have bat brains, but because we don't have bat needs. An infant's brain has all the neurons of the adult brain, but it doesn't have the same quantity of other cells (e.g. glial cells) and it has more basic interconnections that have to be trimmed and more connections associated with memories (physically growing inter-neuron connections) that will be developed over time. As teanagers we are not the same 'person' we are when we are older, and when we age we can begin to 'lose our mind' through neurological degradation, we lose our personality, we become almost like autonoma in sever cases - we eat, shit and sleep. There is no evidence that some 'mind' comes into existence and fades out of existence. All this is compatible with physicalism.

"What goes by the name of 'theism' today is usually (in philosophical circles) the monotheism that developed as a progressive reaction to such pre-monotheistic gods and such." - I agree. Monotheism, God, has been invented by humans. God was made in the image of man, not the other way round. It's a fiction.

"Furthermore the real world that we clearly live in, as conscious continuants, is of course a mental construction build from sensory inputs." - Yes, all physiological.

"Imagine a room you know, empty of people. Do you imagine it flooded with all sorts of electromagnetic and other particles?" - Two points. First, we tend not to do that because we tend to think in terms that were evolutionarily economical. The only electromagnetic waves we were aware of were those light ways in the range we were used to seeing them, and physiologically they appear to us as light patterns - we don't need to the wave or particle structure. Second, I can imaging it flooded with waves or particles as I choose because the brain is capable of making models, patterns.

"I get the complexity " - I appreciate you get the scale of the numbers involved, but I still get the feeling that you can't see the associations between increasing complexity of biological system, particular those with advanced nervous systems, and the increase in complexity of behaviour, and that you can't, going the other way, see the association of complex behaviours, e.g. human consciousness, with complex physiological systems.

"So, if dualists had been less imperfect (i.e. if dualism had been as unpopular as science was (and in many ways still is)) then dualism would have been very similar." - I'm not saying we had a choice in this matter. I'm not saying, "If only those early philosophers had been more thorough they would have adopted physicalism over dualism." I'm saying the dualist view was probably an evolutionary inevitability, as a result of the development of self-awareness (not sure it would emerge with just animal awareness), which along with the propensity for the evolutionarily safer false positive warning system resulted in the attribution of agency to unexplained events, Hence the early development of gods, the socially cohesive benefits of group control reinforcing these ideas, the development of monotheism occurring naturally as philosophical objections to polytheism developed. And, historically, these social and cultural beliefs became so embedded in the social structure that it was natural that societies would encourage the maintenance of those beliefs - hence the ability to what were supposed to be peaceful and loving systems being able to carry out barbaric retribution on those that challenged the status quo.

"Nowadays we would do it differently." - As a thought experiment, if it were possible to take what we know now, and if the knowledge could be imparted to everyone, and if religion did not have the historic power and money it does, then the natural belief would be physicalism. But what I haven't included in that thought experiment is the removal of the evolutionary propensity for some humans to still have what they call spiritual events happening in their brains. So, though the physicalist view would dominate there would still be those that claimed there was some kind of spirit world, but those people would probably be treated like UFO abductees today. But, the fact is that for centuries the boot has been on the other foot. The physicalist atheist has been the outcast.

"That is not a retreat of dualism in the face of evidence, it is the natural development of the scientific theory of soul-brain dualism. Or at least, it could be seen that way, if one wanted to be fair." - There's no such theory, so I don't see how it can be seen that way.

enigMan said...

Hi Ron,

Thanks for the clear and concise recap of the physicalist view; recaps are always useful I think, and I wasn't entirely sure of your position before. Still...

[Dualism] still hasn't any scientific evidence to support it.

Dean Radin thinks that there is scientific evidence for psi, that he has compiled and defended it, and such evidence is as much evidence for dualism as mainstream neuroscience is (as you think) evidence for physicalism... But what do you mean by 'scientific evidence'? Do you mean accepted by a majority of working scientists? That begs sociological questions (cf. the state of some Soviet science). Or do you mean conforming to the scientific method? Dean Radin's work appears to so conform (and arguments about whether or not it does are like arguments about any other scientific evidence, whence we return to the sociological level I think).

My central claim here was that we all have access to good evidence that isn't scientific, and that we can use such evidence when we form our rational beliefs (and that such assessments can go by the name 'probability' even when they are imprecise, as in 'quite probable' and 'hardly probable'). Examples are our direct knowledge of our being subjects, aware individuals, thinking things, and so forth.

There is no evidence that awareness exists

But there is. The evidence is not scientific; indeed, it cannot be. My claim is that we all know that awareness exists. Such awareness is therefore built into the meanings of many of our words, and the meanings of many of our scientific statements, especially in psychology. We may get some of the details wrong (cf. how we naturally suppose the earth to be flat (which in a modern physical sense it could rightly be said to be, oddly enough))... but that in no way indicates that we could possibly be wrong about the existence of awareness.

There are philosophical arguments to the effect that one's communicant does know that awareness exists, but they are all a bit silly really. I just maintain that it's obvious. I think that those who claim that it isn't are confused. They have an argument from their favourite interpretation of science to the non-existence of awareness, and think that they might be wrong about the existence of awareness. Perhaps the latter gets some force from sceptical arguments, e.g. that we could possibly be wrong about 2 + 2 = 4. But it gets no justification from scepticism. That's not so self-evident as the existence of awareness, but it does follow from it (this is roughly a Moorean stance on awareness).

"I get the complexity " - I appreciate you get the scale of the numbers involved, but I still get the feeling that you can't see the associations between increasing complexity of biological system, particular those with advanced nervous systems, and the increase in complexity of behaviour, and that you can't, going the other way, see the association of complex behaviours, e.g. human consciousness, with complex physiological systems.

No, those are 2 of the aspects of the complexity I get. My point is that a very complex robot, able to mimic all sorts of behaviour (and generate its own), could still not have even the simplest degree of awareness. Scientific evidence could never distinguish between such a natural mechanism, naturally evolving in a world physically like this one, and living beings like you (or so I presume) and I. (In other words, I think that Chalmers' zombies are scientifically possible.) For all I know, I'm writing this to an AI, but I'm 100% sure that I'm not such an AI. And I presume that my communicants aren't, for the sake of meaningful argument.

In other words, an ant may or may not have a soul, and a humanoid may or may not have a soul, and the difference in behaviour is due to the difference in the brain (and the rest of the body and the rest of the environment). BUT if there are souls then metaphysically (if not, for us, epistemically) they came first, and our brains exist only to facilitate certain of the souls' functions, in my opinion (according to my theory). Consequently there are great differences between dualistic science and physicalistic science (e.g. dualistic psychology would expect psi to be a natural kind of interaction), which are primarily metaphysical rather than scientific, but show up in scientific programmes (and other sociological ways).

"That is not a retreat of dualism in the face of evidence, it is the natural development of the scientific theory of soul-brain dualism. Or at least, it could be seen that way, if one wanted to be fair." - There's no such theory, so I don't see how it can be seen that way.

I was simplifying a bit; but there are lots of half-baked theories, and some of them are quite scientific (e.g. Eccles, Stapp). Those theories develop (become more baked) in light of experiments done to test various aspects of them. The progression to the eventual theory is only seen (if ever) in hindsight (cf. Copernicus to Newton). It is only natural that you don't see how it can be seen that way, because a lot of the science only looks like science if you don't associate science with physicalism, and a lot of scientists do make that association, whence (for example) the common (in the scientific mainstream) rejection of Dean Radin's work as unscientific.

Ron Murphy said...

Hi,

Dean Radin's results are at best suspect, given my comments on his meta-analysis, but let's suppose his results are correct and show some effect. Is all he has is some indication of some unexplained effect. It may well be consistent with a separate mind, but when the effect is better understood it may be equally consistent with physicalism. This is not evidence for a separate mind, and nor is it evidence for multiple small imperceptible humunculi. Some effect can, in isolation, be attributed to any concept you wish - just as I can attribute agency to a rock - "Look! As falling rock B approached Rock A, rock A decided to get out of the way. The rock must have agency." This is consistent, until we start looking for more evidence of agency in the rock, compare it to other objects, say 'living' objects, and decide that rock A's response can be described sufficiently by physical mechanical laws - we could choose to attribute agency to the rock, but there is little point in doing so. Similarly we choose to attribute a separate mind to the human brain, but there is little point in doing so because the brain and its behaviours can be described under physicalism.

"That begs sociological questions (cf. the state of some Soviet science). " - Yes, it does. We covered that some time ago; and in my last post I mentioned Beatrice Golomb's work on identifying commercially and politically biased science. Mainstream science using the scientific method attempts to overcome non-scientific influences. The fact that it fails to do that sometimes isn't a demonstration that the science has failed, but that it's use has. In general, mainstream science requires multiple repeatable sources of evidence, any of which should be subject to scrutiny. I'm not aware of any significant bias in any of the neuroscience I'm aware of - discussions and criticisms are generally quite open. I am aware of theological bias that is based on core beliefs that outweigh scientific evidence for those believers.

"Such awareness is therefore built into the meanings of many of our words, and the meanings of many of our scientific statements, especially in psychology." - The fact that 'awareness' is used in psychology is evidence that 'awareness' is used as a model in psychology - and I don't see a problem with using models. But this isn't evidence that 'awareness' exists as a property of a separate mind.

"but that in no way indicates that we could possibly be wrong about the existence of awareness." - Of course it does, or at least it should make us sceptical about any of our intuitive ideas about what the mind is and what its attributes are. Descartes suggested the mind might exist in the middle of the brain, because he intuitively felt that was were it should be. There is no evidence of this being the case, so it is generally discarded. In fact there is counter evidence - it is clear from the way damage in different parts of the brain can alter the way the mind works that the 'mind' (model) is distributed throughout the brain, and in some respects throughout the body; and it is clear from the way parts of the body are mapped onto areas of the brain that concepts that the brain holds about itself and its body are also distributed about the brain. This is one respect in which the concept of a separate mind has retreated, though granted that some philosophers and theists may have already thought that the mind/soul existed outside the body, or co-existed within it but in some other dimension - all reasonable models or hypotheses, but with no evidence for them.

"I just maintain that it's obvious. I think that those who claim that it isn't are confused." - I maintain too that it is obvious, intuitively, due to evolutionary and social forces that have driven that model. Being 'obvious' in this intuitive sense isn't sufficient. But I'd say those who can't see passed it are confused, because (i) there is such an abundance of evidence of the physical world that we happily accept, and (ii) no evidence of the non-physical, (iii) that the non-physical models are so numerous, so varied and so vague that it is quite easy to make them consistent with anything and on that basis they tell us nothing, (iv) evidence that non-physical models can be illusionary ('I am Napoleon', 'phantom limb', etc) to a far greater extent than the physical, because the physical can be verified by multiple agents at different times and places, (v) and there is no way to verify the non-physical models.



"My point is that a very complex robot, able to mimic all sorts of behaviour (and generate its own), could still not have even the simplest degree of awareness." - How do you know this? Well, that's a claim that you can't demonstrate. Unfortunately I can't demonstrate a counter claim. The examples below show the scale of the problem, which makes your claim uninteresting.

1) Create a human via natural means - Using sexual intercourse, in vitro fertilisation - the technique doesn't matter as long as an egg and a sperm join to for a human embryo. That human grows into an adult. It has a brain. It also has a mind, which in my terms is an abstract model of some aspects of the brain, but in your terms is a real non-physical entity.

2) Create a clone of an existing human - But once the embryo is created allow it grow naturally, as in example 1.

3) Manufacture a 'human' - Manufacture, from scratch, one human sperm cell and one human egg, Bring them together and from there let it follow the natural growth. Now this is extremely difficult, though not in principle impossible. Since the growth of a human at all stages is so dependent on DNA we would have to create some DNA, as well as all the other structures and chemical components of the initial cells - no mean feat. Let's suppose we generate completely new DNA; but we'd have to be careful here. We would want this creature to be as human-like as possible, and given the evolutionary heritage encapsulated in human DNA, and recognising how just small differences in DNA examples can give us quite different species, we might inadvertently create something non-human in the morphological sense. Have we grown a 'human' or a 'robot'? It's not strictly human because it hasn't 'inherited' it's existence, it's DNA, from two human beings. It wouldn't be what we call a robot, since the human brain is capable of a higher degree of autonomy. But there is nothing that would prevent such a creature having a brain that is so indistinguishable from mine and yours that it would appear to have a mind - clearly as a model using my sense of mind. But would it have your sense of mind?

4) Manufacture a non-bio intellect - At this point we see that it would be extremely difficult to create a non-biological version of even the simplest creatures that don't have a nervous system. Something like Aplysia may be possible as a crude model, but even this would be challenging. One of the difficulties is that long term memory is implemented by growing new connections between neurons, so our non-bio neurons would have to have an equivalent capability, or would have to mimic such a capability. But this is a long way from intelligence. The interaction of the various parts of the brain are extremely complex, and although we can model bits of it, such as small groups of cells, it is difficult to model even the simplest nervous systems.

There are other problems. For the robot to develop, to 'grow-up', and learn to be human to the extent that it could converse with humans would require that it have similar human experience as it grows and develops. What would it be like to communicate with an intellect that had awareness but wasn't human? We don't know what difficulties that would entail.

We might have a vague idea of what might constitute intelligence and self-awareness in, say, some earlier ancestor that isn't quite what we are now. We have examples of humans with severe brain disorders, and we have our near relatives, such as chimpanzees. These give us a feel for what is and isn't required for self awareness. and we can list some properties. But these other examples are all from the same evolutionary tree, with the same building blocks. We have no examples of other kinds of intelligences. We can, in a sci-fi sort of way, imagine, in vague terms, what some other intelligence might be like. But we can't pin it down.

So, as far as a robot or any other artificial intelligence is concerned, we don't know. But you cannot provide a principle that shows it's not possible.

"Chalmers' zombies are scientifically possible" - This is just another version of the Chinese room. The same complexity problem exists. What physical attributes would Chalmers allow this zombie? Would he allow it a functional brain? Suppose we had the technology to disconnect a human brain and put it in a zombie and connect it up properly. We would have some problems. For example, the zombie's eyes, retina and optic nerves would react slightly differently to light than the original human body, but that needn't be a problem - when cochlea implants are first fitted people using them hear a very distorted tinny sound, but after some time they report normal hearing because the brain has adapted to interpret the new sound inputs. So, would this zombie plus brain be intelligent, have self-awareness, once the brain had become accustomed to the new body? I think it would, just as amputees eventually become accustomed to changes in their bodies; or if you cut your finger and lose the sensory input from you finger tip the numb fingertip still becomes part of you. If Chalmers doesn't allow us to implant a brain what does he mean by saying the zombie is like a human in every way? This is a flawed thought experiment, flawed in a similar way to the Mary experiment. Just as with the Mary claim that in the monochrome world she knows everything there is to know about colour is incorrect, so in the Zombie case Chalmers isn't constructing a real fully formed human, because if he did it would be human, it would have 'awareness', by virtue of the operation of its brain. For the Zombie case to mean anything requires a body-brain can exist without the dualist separate mind, but then this is supposed to a case for dualism - it's circular. From another angle you could say zombies do exist - people with complete brain deterioration - but this satisfies the physicalist description since neuronal deterioration has reduced the functionality of the brain to the extent there is no apparent 'mind'. Of course, dualism being as slippery as it is it would be easy to come up with a dualist explanation - such as the mind exists in some spirit world and is disconnected from the brain.

"For all I know, I'm writing this to an AI, but I'm 100% sure that I'm not such an AI. And I presume that my communicants aren't, for the sake of meaningful argument." - Same here. I could be an AI. But I treat it as follows. First, from all we know about physical AI there is no evidence of anyone having been discovered to be an AI, so the trivial case is easy to dispose of. Second, for any other sophisticated AI interpretation (whether it applies to just me or everyone), it doesn't matter, since in all respects I appear to operate in what I/we understand to be human ways, I might as well carry on living as if I am human, until evidence to the contrary comes up. Third, if I really am AI, which is the most likely way to discover that? Not by simply believing that I am, on faith, but by learning more about science to investigate what in fact I am. So far that study has lead me to conclude I am a human in the physicalist sense and that there is no evidence that I am AI, or that I have a separate mind.


"BUT if there are souls then metaphysically (if not, for us, epistemically) they came first" - This is another claim out of the blue that is typical of dualists and theists. How do you know this? Let's suppose for the moment that there is a God that made everything. The first problem, not having any evidence of his existence, is that what we do have is a bunch of theological claims, many of which are inconsistent, and we know that either (a) they were invented entirely by humans or (b) one or more of them were revealed to humans by God. The problem with this is we have no way of telling which is the case. For that reason it would be quite feasible to come up with a theology that claimed that God created the universe, started evolution on this planet with entirely physicalist creatures, including humans, and then, figures that these humans aren't coping with morality too well, and so decides that from 1st January 2010 he will introduce souls. In other words, your claims about souls coming first is just one more imaginative leap in abstract thought, which is common for physicalist human brains to do - it is consistent with the evolutionary benefit of anticipating possible outcomes in order to make best predictions: as the lion starts to attack what might happen if I (a) run, (b) stand up and fight, (c) wait for it to leap, duck and stab it.

"in my opinion (according to my theory)." - Precisely. But that's all you have. your idea.

"Consequently there are great differences between dualistic science and physicalistic science." - Yes, one is entirely made up in the human mind, and sometimes is clutching a straws with dubious data from Radin and the like, while the other is attempting to form a good theory from the ground up using the scientific method and masses of data.

"but there are lots of half-baked theories" - Quite.

"because a lot of the science only looks like science if you don't associate science with physicalism" - But Radin and others are performing physical experiments. They are having people do things in physical labs. If you don't have the physical it isn't science, it's made up stuff, hypotheses with no substance. Now, fair enough, if someone has a hypothesis bout ESP, and demonstrates it clearly, then it must have had some physical effect - there would be physically detectable events in one brain as a consequence of physical events in another brain without any intervening connection; or, of there really is some non-physical element we should still see physical effects: in an fmri scan the mind reader's brain should light up in ways that mimic the thought projector's. But that then would still be a physicalist phenomenon, just one that we had not been able to detect before. So I don't have a problem with Radin carrying out his privately funded research - he has the conviction, so who better. But he has to bring something substantial to the table before the rest of the scientific community takes notice. If Eric Kandel had brought some half baked result to the table he wouldn't have got a Nobel Prize for it and neuroscience wouldn't have built on his results, because he wouldn't have had results to build on. This is what I mean about the mass of evidence in neuroscience and related sciences - they are duplicating results and getting further results that simply wouldn't appear if the earlier results were wrong. With regard to ESP there are no good results, and so nothing to build on, and so nothing full-stop. There is no science of mind/brain that results, such as, "Based on Radin's results that ESP is achieved by doing such-and-such, the US Army has dispensed with radios in the field and is now employing encrypted ESP channels." The realm of ESP and the paranormal in general really is out on a limb because it deserves to be - there are no results.

"rejection of Dean Radin's work as unscientific" - Only in a general sense, in that it doesn't comply with the scientific method sufficiently well - they claim his methods are flawed, or that his analysis of the results isn't rigorous enough. Is all he has to do is show good results. As he said, his results are comparable to some drug results - but since those drug results are flaky that reinforces the claim that Radin's work is flaky.

enigMan said...

You're still being unfair, Ron. Methods appropriate to physics are not always appropriate to psychology, and similarly those two to history, and so forth. And they are hardly ever appropriate to the formation of personal beliefs about the real world around one (except indirectly, insofar as one integrates physical theories into one's world-view). Furthermore, your own position seems to be incoherent: Why do you propose physicalism rather than some sort of Idealism? All your evidence is consistent with some sort of Idealism (and indeed, with solipsism). So where is your evidence for physicalism? My best guess is that it comes from ordinary language and common sense, despite your rejection of such sources when it comes to dualism. You don't have to find my claims interesting, but the above string of comments indicates that you do. And to reiterate, we are here discussing one of your claims:

Discussions about the 'probability' of any of these possible ideas, and in this context that there might or might not be a God, are metaphysical speculations and have no mathematical basis to take them any further. In order to calculate probabilites about God's existence we need information we just don't have.

Probabilities can be informal or formal. Swinburnes are best understood as informal; but they can also be understood as formal epistemic probabilities. Then the apposite evidence is all subjective (including subjective takes on scientific evidence). Insofar as there is overlap in our rational subjective experiences, so there is some overlap in our rational subjective probabilities. And as I say, your physicalism is a metaphysical speculation with no evidence to support it. (I shalln't address directly the points in your previous comment as they all seemed to have missed somehow the points of the remarks of mine that they were commenting upon:)

Ron Murphy said...

Hi,

The whole basis of my point of view is the following.

We have experiences, which for simplicity can be categorised as physical and mental.

It is reasonable to accept physical experiences as most real because they can be confirmed most reliably, consistently, repeatedly, by different people, at different times. This is the physical world we inhabit. The scientific method is simply a more rigorous application of this basic way of experiencing the world. It appears to work very well, since we have not only our every day experiences to confirm it - e.g. every time I attempt to boil water in an electric kettle, provided it is in working order and there is electricity it works; but I never see the water boil when there is no electricity connected. Never!

I could subscribe to this physicalism, or I could instead subscribe to solipsism, just as I could suppose I'm an AI, or I could suppose we are in a Matrix world, or any other number of other scenarios. Because what I experience is consistent with all these views, I would then ask the following. What would I expect to see, to experience, if each of these were really true? For physicalism I would expect to experience just what I do experience, nothing more. If the other scenarios are working perfectly, and by this I mean they are managing to deceive me, by not revealing the hidden reality, then I would expect to see the same. But, should any of these other views be true, how would I find out? How would I go about exposing the AI reality, or the Matrix reality? Well, I could only do what I am doing, or should I say we, as a species, could only do what we do, which is to investigate as rigorously as possible using whatever are the best methods we have available. Given that these methods are physicalist methods we are stuck to some extent. There might be a chance that we uncover some inconsistency that on further investigation reveals we are AI or Matrix worlders, but even those scenarios supposedly have some physicalist world at there foundation, some physical world that creates us as AI's, or some physical world that implementing the Matrix deception.

The only scenario that appears to be completely consistent is idealism/solipsism. The problem is that they tell us nothing more, and not only that, they make all our physical world futile. If it is all in my mind, then you are all in my mind and you don't exist at all. From your point of view I would be all in your mind and would have no existence.

Alternatively we could be multiple minds that communicate through some 'apparent' and fictitious physical world. Well, if this is the case then it appears also that this mode of communication is so consistent within itself that this mental instantiation of the physical appears to follow the exact same rules that a purely physical world would do.

I might as well subscribe to the physical as if it is real. So, I do subscribe, out of convenience, and because I have no counter evidence, to a real physical world. To repeat my very first question in my first comment on this thread, why bother with dualism? It offers nothing that a physicalist interpretation doesn't.

But, let's just go with idealism for a minute. Even under idealism events can be divided into physical and mental - i.e. imagined physical events and imagined mental events. This is consistent because the point of idealism is that the effects are so realistic to us that though we can't distinguish between idealism and physicalism worlds, we can distinguish between physical events and mental events on those two world views. So, even under idealism we still have to deal with this difference.

So, when we examine mental-only events, in whichever world view, we do find that there are inconsistencies and contradictions that we don't find in the physical side of the world view. In fact the physical side of the world view demonstrates these inconsistencies well - illusions, delusions, simple misunderstandings, imagination, fantasy, etc. The mental-only view is consistently shown to be unreliable whereas the physical is consistently reliable, no matter which world view these two categories are being examined under - physicalism, or idealism.

"My best guess is that it comes from ordinary language and common sense, despite your rejection of such sources when it comes to dualism." - I don't reject ordinary language and common sense. But I do find that they can be unreliable, and so scepticism is used to challenge them when they appear to produce curious results, and the scientific method is used to examine the curious results further, to establish as reliably as possible what is actually the case. This doesn't seem incoherent. This seems like common sense in its most useful form. I don't find it common sense to come up with some idea in my mind, say dualism, and simply accept it.

"And as I say, your physicalism is a metaphysical speculation with no evidence to support it." - Yes, it is metaphysical speculation, to begin with. But it has shown to be consistent with every day life, and with every scientific discovery ever made. So, what starts as a metaphysical speculation, a hypothesis, has accumulated the most abundant and most consistent data to support it. Dualist too is a hypothesis, which might also be consistent with much of the science that exists, but there is no evidence of this other thing that is the mind.

enigMan said...

Ron, I wondered if you were confusing the physical and the phenomenal, and the physicalistic with the scientific. Then you said that "even under idealism we still have to deal with this difference" between the physical and the mental. Indeed, there's no scientific difference between physicalism and idealism.

The difference is that under physicalism we reduce the mental to the physical, and under idealism we reduce the physical to the mental. A dualist sees no reason to make either reduction; and what you've failed to give me is, I think, any reason for presuming that we should do the former.

Our concept of a law of nature, for example, is closely related to our concepts of possibility and necessity, and of probability and force. Such concepts are not obviously less problematic in the physical realm, than in the mental realm. For an idealist, natural laws are like when someone hypnotises someone else, imposing their stronger will upon them; or they're like when we condition a lower animal, to behave in certain ways. For a physicalist, there just are nomological necessities.

And similarly, subjective probability is regarded by most philosophers as more straightforward than physical probability, unless the latter is reduced to the former (when they are equally difficult). Personally I disagree, and favour treating physical probabilities as objective propensities of indeterministic (and completely non-mental) matter.

That's consistent with my dualism, which incidentally I didn't come up with and simply accept, but which has a long tradition, going back through Popper, Descartes, Plato and so forth.

enigMan said...

...of course, it may just be that our idiolects are too different for us to actually communicate.

Re Blackmore, in her new book she "muses on insights from contemporary cognitive science and announces dramatic personal discoveries, such as that she has an invisible head"

Ron Murphy said...

Hi, sorry for the delay, I've had a lot of work on and I wanted to give a more complete explanation of my point of view.

The problem with a number of these philosophical concepts is that they start with a hypothesis of some sort, usually based on some abstract concept, and are then built up in to philosophical ideas that have no foundation. They turn out to be nothing but invented abstract systems. Any one of them could represent reality, and as such none of them are particularly persuasive in their own right.

Further more, they often have different meanings that depend on the context - so, with Idealism, are we talking philosophy of mind or epistemology - are we contrasting it with materialism or realism? Another problem is that it's easy to suddenly presuppose one of these concepts on top of whatever world view you have. So, I could start out assuming materialism, but then it's an easy step to suggest (hypothesise) that materialism might be an illusion, and that minds alone exist. I might then hypothesise that there are multiple independent minds, or a single mind. In answer to that I could propose that we are indeed all minds, but those minds exists inside some unknown other reality, which itself has a physical reality at the base of it. And so on - there is no limit.

The point is that it's easy to make these hypothesised worlds as simple or as complex as we like. Whatever the reality is, we appear to be able to create as many abstract ideas like this as we wish. I don't have a problem with this as such; but what I do have a problem with is the way in which one hypothesis is heaped on to of another until we end up with all sorts of unfounded ideas, and then act as if they are real.

Because none of this is ever confirmed by any other means it's possible to build up all sorts of arbitrary stories, such as the many theologies - and this is what we find has happened. The fact that many theologies have been trimmed down to a basic set of ideas, such as a monotheistic Abrahamic God, and yet are still so varied, is due partly to the counter play of cultural similarities and shared knowledge on the one hand, set against cultural and historical differences on the other, and due partly to a growing influence of rational analysis and the results of scientific progress that have lead to a more critical assessment of the philosophical and theological ideas concerned.

From my point of view I have rejected this approach to discovering reality simply because it does not appear to work. We end up with any number of possible realities a no way to discover if any are real. What follows then is my rationalisation of physicalism - not because I'm starting out from there on a hunch, or a gut feeling, but because that's where I arrive.



So, where does that leave us. Well, we can start with appearances and look for what most often appears to be consistent. From the above it doesn't appear to get us anywhere if we start off by proposing ideas that are not apparent - because they can lead anywhere, yet nowhere.

We appear to think; we think that we think. I don't see any way out of this without becoming completely hypothetical. Descartes, Kant and others have been on the right track here, but then they go and screw it up. What generally happens is that the philosopher comes up with some basic idea about what reality might consists of, and go to great lengths to explain how we can't know any of the details because it is beyond our capacity to know; but then, miraculously, they start to tell us precisely what this reality is like. And the biggest culprits in the scam that is explaining the unexplainable are the theologians. How many times do you hear how we cannot know the mind of God, only then to be told what God thinks we should be doing and not doing; or how he is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent, and then why he is or isn't timeless, does or doesn't know everything, does or doesn't create good and evil. This is nonsense.

So, we appear to think. We also appear to have physical senses. We 'think' we have physical senses, because, and only because, that is what it appears like.

We might suppose that we only think we have physical senses, and from there suppose the physical senses are an illusion - i.e. take the route to idealism. But again, that is only a hypothesis; and what does that get us? Do we need it?

Is there the possibility of removing the senses, and hence removing the appearance of the physical, so that we are left with only the mental?

Well, there are situations where the physical senses can be changed - we can perform what appear to be physical acts to cut off senses, from removing the sources or by cutting the physical sense paths, the nerves, within the body. But, in doing these we appear to be performing physical tasks that themselves require the physical senses to perform. So, in attempting to remove the physical in this way we appear to be affirming the physical. At this point, with just this information, there appears to be no good reason to reject what is apparent so far: we think, and we have physical senses, and these are sustained by the fact that we think that we think and we think we have physical senses. We so far have nothing to refute this.

We could also attempt to remove the senses using some thought control process, on the assumption that the physical is an illusion. We might try this through some spiritual introspection and meditation. Certainly it seems like this is possible to some extent, but only in a limited way. I don't know of any record of anyone who claimed to be in a state of meditation that couldn't be disturbed and brought out of it by some physical disturbance. Now, even if we assume that the physical is an illusion, the power of the illusion is so strong that it can overcome the mental. While I'm typing this I am lost in the mental, but when the phone rings I'll snap out of this train of thought. The mental 'appears' very arbitrary.

Further more, it appears - i.e. we think - there is a physical realm, or at least something that appears to us as physical. We observe the physical so convincingly that the consistency of the pattern of the physical is far greater than any consistency of the mental. We observe a range of physicality, from the rock, through chemicals, simple life forms, complex life forms, on to us, and they all behave consistently physically. We take steps to test the physical, using the scientific method, that is so convincing in its explanation of the consistency of the physical and the inconsistency of the mental that we find it hard not to conclude that the physical is primary; and whether this is actual, or whether this is just a mental illusion in itself seems to make no difference that we can tell.

So, at this point the case for thinking and the physical appears itself to be so persuasive that there doesn't seem much point in pursuing idealism, or any other alternative. I don't have a problem with philosophers musing on the possibilities of any hypothesis they choose; but just as I said in an earlier comment, I don't let any current cosmological hypothesis or theory about the origin of the universe dictate my life in general, or my moral life in particular, so I'm not sufficiently moved by any of the abstract philosophical ideas to do so either.

Where does that leave me? At this point I accept that I think and my physical senses are reliable to some extent - for no other reason that they appear to be. But, from basic observations using my thinking capabilities and my physical senses, I also find plenty of anomalies, cases where thinking and the physical senses appear to be unreliable. About the only thing we can do at this point is collect data and make observations, both mental and physical, and look for patterns. A good rule of thumb would be the following: where there are lots of examples of consistent positive results let those results stand as working hypotheses; and where they able to predict future results, build general rules, theories, based on those results; and where anomalies occur often and give inconsistent result, treat with scepticism, and let our rules or theory ignore those anomalies for now, in some general proportion to the degree of anomoly in quality or number; where there is no rule that can be established, where there is no regular consistent evidence from our thinking and our senses, leave this data as unexplained, and say we don't know, an specifically don't invent God-of-the Gaps type answers by inventing unnecessary hypotheses and theologies.

I would say that this is how other people (in addition to myself) 'appear' to operate. Now, putting aside the idea that these other people might be fictitious creations of my mind, and using my basic thinking and senses to assume that, for now at least, the consistency of this model of the world (that other people exists and think and sense like me) leads me to think it would be a good guide. So, it would be reasonable to accept the communications that go on between myself and others, and between others themselves, as a representation of what is really happening. This too 'appears' to be what we all 'appear' to do. I have thought of nothing and sensed (personally or through others' ideas) nothing that refutes this, and this is the most basic representation of reality that I find (i.e. any form of Idealism offers me nothing more).

From here it is a simple step to employ the scientific method. As I've said, this is just a more rigorous application of the above. The scientific method is simply the rigorous and repeated examination of appearances that allows us to formulate predictive rules that allow us to explain and control aspects of our lives and our environment. It does nothing more than this.

But in doing this it has provided us with lots of useful general observations, some of which are the following.

1) Nothing has been found that is not physical. Any of the ideas that are entirely mental are fine as mental ideas, but they have no direct or indirect evidence in the physical.

There are plenty of mental ideas that have corresponding physical occurrences, but these are trivial - I think about my hand, it's physical visual philosophical and my thoughts about it have a correspondence. But there are also ideas about the physical which we cannot experience directly - atoms, infra-red light - but which we can detect indirectly through other physical means that involve transformations from one medium to another that can be sensed.

2) Physical sense data can be anomalous. We lack precision, for example - we can't tell the temperature of anything we touch beyond some vague range, and it varies from one person to another.

3) Some sense events, such as optical illusions, phantom limb experiences, and others, may appear to be associated with our mental interpretation of the physical, and so are classed as mental anomalies.

Some anomalies appear to be associated with our memories - the recording of physical events in the mental world, so these too are mental anomalies, even though they involve the interpretation of what we think are physical events. For example, someone with short term memory loss can be tought a skill over a number of days and can eventually perform the skill without having any conscious memory of learning it.

4) Mental-only ideas tend to be the most varied and anomalous of all. Not only can we conjure up any fantasy we choose, but there are times when we don't appear to have control of our thought processes, which has a great impact on what we tend to believe, and this in turn can impact on what we do.

5) The mental is always intertwined with the physical. We find that from being infants we use the combination of the senses, particularly eye-hand (sight-touch) co-ordination, to examine the orientation of the physical world, and sight-sound-touch-taste to establish our emotional world. This is how we build up our understanding of the world. I don't know of any instance where a mental-only entity (excluding ALL senses) has lead to any measurable intelligent form of life. Inventing the abstract idea of such an entity is not the same as there actually being such an entity.

6) The most common reliable occurrences are the physical. Based on the above we have been able to examine a whole range of existence, from the non-life physical only entities, to all the life forms we have come across. All of them have a physical instantiation. We have never experienced non-physical entities that satisfy all the above criteria for establishing the reliability and consistency of data.



The above can generally be termed the empirical view, and becomes, as I'll describe, the physicalist view. But when left in the hands of philosophers this term, 'empirical', can take on other baggage that isn't warranted. But for now I can call this the empirical view, and the results of the repeatable, consistent and low-anomaly observations become 'evidence'. The further away you get from the rigorous application of the scientific method towards the more vague, insubstantial and hypothetical, the less value it is as evidence.

With all this we have established that the use of the scientific method applied to what 'appears' to be the physical universe, when used with what we have come to call critical thinking, those mental processes we have found to produce the most reliable and consistent results, is about as good as we can expect of our understanding of reality. Again, I would emphasise that many philosophical and theological ideas that are created do not have this foundation behind them. They have nothing but hypotheses, to which are usually applied half baked attempts at proofs.

So, I personally settle at basic empiricism, with no need for anything else. I could postulate something additional, such as the mind, but I would have to have good reason to do that. Instead, what follows leads me on to physicalism.

From basic empiricism I can see that there are results of this empirical view, specifically the neurological, physiological and psychological sciences for individuals, and the sociological, cultural, anthropological sciences for groups, that show that there are many physical processes within the brain and the body generally, that give us a good explanation for what are otherwise considered to be mental-only events and processes. Many aspects of the emotions can explained physiologically. Brain processes that have counterparts in many animal species are found to work in similar ways - down to the way the neurons work, and even down to the same proteins being used and reused throughout all species. Nothing has been found that points to anything other than physical processes at work.

I can invent a dualist model of brain processes that can be called the mind, that treats the mind as something distinct from the brain - even if this model has been used before by various philosophers I am still creating it now in my brain. But there is no evidence that such an entity as the mind exists. We are able to create more complex models of the mind if we wish; we can attach such models to other creations, such as theism, free-will, responsibility, good, evil - i.e. we can construct theologies.

A serious problem for the dualist, and even more of a problem for the theists, is the unbelievable inventiveness employed and superficially disguised with reason. Reading a paper on theodicy is like sitting in on writers meeting for The Simpsons, "Well, an omniscient timeless Homer wouldn't behave like this. A maximally knowledgeable Homer probably knows truths that are indefinitely extensible." - a story is being constructed for entirely fictitious characters with properties that, if they existed, wouldn't be knowable to the script writers anyway. How would you know what a maximally knowable Homer/God would know? How many maximally knowable beings have you met lately?

This wild fantasy applies to all our abstract models. We can invent them in our brains as we wish with all the imaginative ingenuity at our disposal. But to get any consistent reliable idea about the reality we want the model to represent we have to rely on the scientific method. We have nothing else. If it were only a contest of inventiveness, then creative spontaneous abstract out of the box thinking would win hands down - it's great at coming up with ideas from the flotsam and jetsam floating around in our brains. But once we have an idea we have only the rigor of the scientific method to grind it into anything approaching what appears to be a representation of reality.

There is so much stuff going on, physically, in our brains and bodies, that we are aware of only a small fraction of it. We know a lot about how some details of the brain work, such as memory (which is what learning is, the acquisition of knowledge) down at the level of the neuron, on down to the chemical. We know how many brain functions work - and how they go wrong. All this is consistent with the physicalist view of the mind. Nothing has yet been found to refute this view.

The fact that some dualists find this absurd isn't counter evidence or a refutation. Now most of these dualists are happy to attribute physicalism to all but the mental, and some are happy to attribute physicalism to many mental processes, particularly the automatic ones. But they can't say with any clarity why they think this, and they can't supply evidence, the type of evidence they too would require in most other examinations of reality.

It is the dualism case that is proposing 'another thing', 'another reality' that hasn't been observed. There is simply no need for employing it; unless there is matching rigorously verified evidence, or unless there is an ulterior motive - God. And examining the arguments made by dualists leads me to think that they are not being critical enough of their own thought processes; they are starting with a belief, or a gut feeling, and trying to justify it. There is simply no evidence that matches the power and consistency available using the scientific method.

enigMan said...

Hi again; am glad to have your thoughts to think about. I'm also busy with something else at the moment (and as usual limited for time in this virtual world), but re: We might suppose that we only think we have physical senses, and from there suppose the physical senses are an illusion - i.e. take the route to idealism. I still wonder if you are confusing the physical and the phenomenal, and the physicalistic with the scientific.

Idealism does not require that the necessity of the regularities of the physical world is an illusion. (That idea is rather associated with the physicalism of such Humeans as David Lewis.) We start, as you say, with the appearance that we are thinking and that we are thinking of a physical world. The physical world appears to include such objects as the brown desk at which I am sitting.

That brown desk is a phenomenal (indeed, an intentional) object, primarily, and insofar as we refer to what lies behind appearances, with "that brown desk", science only tells us more about the laws governing its observable properties.

The idealist can see a division between the thinking (of an imaginary desk) and the sensing (of the physical desk), both of which are to some extent real. (That distinction is akin to that between the voluntary and the involuntary.) She can also see that both are to some extent illusory: The brownness is not out there, in the desk, or rather it is only insofar as 'out there' is in one's head (so to speak).

The idealist can even see that physical senses are less illusory than the private imagination. They show us some involuntary necessities that affect us whether or not we want them to. An oasis will not disappear as we approach it, as a mirage or a merely passionately believed in lake will.

Re theistic dualism, and: Reading a paper on theodicy is like sitting in on writers meeting for The Simpsons, I get that feeling reading maths (i.e. ZFC) papers, or cutting-edge physics. I used to feel like that about theology (and philosophy). I guess that all of academia is like that really.