A Review of John Beversluis' book C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion: Revised and Updated

C.S. Lewis has had an enormous impact on the evangelical mind. His books still top the charts in bookstores. But what about the substance of his arguments? Philosopher Dr. John Beversluis wrote the first full-length critical study of C. S. Lewis's apologetic writings, published by William B. Eerdmans, titled C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (1985). For twenty-two years it was the only full-length critical study of C.S. Lewis’s writings.

Beversluis was a former Christian who studied at Calvin College under Harry Jellema who inspired Christian thinkers like Alvin Plantinga (who was already in graduate school), and Nicholas Wolterstoff (who was a senior when he entered). Later he was a student at Indiana University with my former professor James D. Strauss. He became a professor at Butler University.

In this first book, Beversluis took as his point of departure Lewis's challenge where he said: “I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it” (Mere Christianity p. 123). Beversluis thoroughly examined that hypothesis and found the evidence Lewis presents should not lead people to accept Christianity.

According to Beversluis, his first book “elicited a mixed response-indeed, a response of extremes. Some thought I had largely succeeded. I was complimented for writing a ‘landmark’ book that ‘takes up Lewis's challenge to present the evidence for Christianity and ... operates with full rigor’” (p. 9-10). But the critics were “ferocious.” He said, “I had expected criticism. What I had not expected was the kind of criticism…I was christened the "bad boy" of Lewis studies and labeled the "consummate Lewis basher" (p. 10).

In his “Revised and Updated” book published by Prometheus Books, which was prompted by Keith Parsons and Charles Echelbarger, Beversluis claims “this is not just a revised and updated second edition, but a very different book that supercedes the first edition on every point” (p.11). According to him: “Part of my purpose in this book to show, by means of example after example, the extent to which the apparent cogency of his arguments depends on his rhetoric rather than on his logic…Once his arguments are stripped of their powerful rhetorical content, their apparent cogency largely vanishes and their apparent persuasiveness largely evaporates. The reason is clear: it is not the logic, but the rhetoric that is doing most of the work. We will have occasion to see this again and again. In short, my purpose in this book is not just to show that Lewis's arguments are flawed. I also want to account for their apparent plausibility and explain why they have managed to convince so many readers” (pp. 20,22).

Additionally, Beversluis tells us, “My aim in this revised and updated edition is twofold. First, I will revisit and reexamine Lewis's arguments in light of my more recent thoughts about them. Second, I will to reply to my critics and examine their attempts to reformulate and defend his arguments, thereby responding not only to Lewis but to the whole Lewis movement—that cadre of expositors, popular apologists, and philosophers who continue to be inspired by him and his books. I will argue that their objections can be met and that even when Lewis's arguments are formulated more rigorously than he formulated them, they still fail” (p. 11).

C.S. Lewis’ writings contain three arguments for God’s existence, the “Argument from Desire,” the “Moral Argument,” and the “Argument From Reason.” Lewis furthermore argued that the Liar, Lunatic, Lord dilemma/trilemma shows Jesus is God. Lewis also deals with the major skeptical objection known as the Problem of Evil. Beversluis examines all of these arguments and finds them defective, some are even fundamentally flawed. Lastly Beversluis examines Lewis’ crisis of faith when he lost the love of his life, his wife. (He denies he ever said Lewis lost his faith).

I can only briefly articulate what Beversluis says about these arguments here, but his analysis of them is brilliant and devastating to Lewis’ whole case. The Argument From Desire echoes Augustine’s sentiment in his Confessions when addressing God that “You have made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.” Lewis develops this into an argument for God’s existence which can be formulated in several ways, but the bottom line is that since humans have a desire for joy beyond the natural world, which is what he means by "joy," there must be an object to satisfy that desire in God. Beversluis subjects this argument to criticism on several fronts. How universal is the desire for this "joy"? Is "joy" even a desire? Is Lewis’ description of "joy" a natural desire at all, since desires are biological and instinctive? Do all our desires have fulfillment? What about people who have been satisfied by things other than God, with their careers, spouses and children? In what I consider the most devastating question, he asks if there is any propositional content to the object of Lewis’ argument? Surely if there is an object that corresponds to the desire for "joy" then one who finds this object should be able to describe it from such an experience. Based upon Lewis’ argument she can’t. In fact, Beversluis argues if she cannot do that how does she even know it's an object that corresponds to her desire for "joy" in the first place?

Lewis’ Moral Argument is basically that all people have a notion of right and wrong, and the only explanation for this inner sense of morality must come from a Power behind the moral law known as God. Beversluis claims this argument is based on a few questionable assumptions related to the Euthyphro dilemma, and it depends on the theory of ethical subjectivism from which Lewis only critiques straw man versions rather than the robust versions of Hume and Hobbes. And if that isn’t enough to diminish his case, deductively arguing that there is a Power behind this moral law is committing “the fallacy of affirming the consequent.” (p. 99). 1) If there is a Power behind the moral law then it must make itself known internally within us. 2) We do find this moral law internally within us. .: Therefore, there is a Power behind the moral law. As such this argument is invalid. Of course, there is much more here in Beversluis’ argument.

The Argument From Reason, as best seen in Lewis’ book, Miracles, “is the philosophical backbone of the whole book,” from which “his case for miracles depends.” (p. 145). Lewis champions the idea that if naturalism is true such a theory “impugns the validity of reason and rational inference,” and as such, naturalists contradict themselves if they use reason to argue their case. If you as a naturalist have ever been troubled by such an argument you need to read Beversluis’ response to it, which is the largest chapter in his book, and something I can’t adequately summarize in a few short sentences. Suffice it to say, he approvingly quotes Keith Parsons who said: “surely Lewis cannot mean that if naturalism is true, then there is no such thing as valid reasoning. If he really thought this, he would have to endorse the hypothetical ‘If naturalism is true, then modus ponens is invalid.’ But since the consequent is necessarily false, then the hypothetical is false if we suppose naturalism is true (which is what the antecedent asserts), and Lewis has no argument.” (p. 174).

Lewis’ Liar, Lunatic, Lord Dilemma/Trilemma is one of the most widely used arguments among popular apologists, in variations, where since Jesus claimed he was God, the only other options are that he was either a liar or a lunatic, or both, which Lewis argues isn’t reasonable. Therefore Jesus is God, who he claimed he was. Even William Lane Craig defends it in his book Reasonable Faith. But it is widely heralded as Lewis’ weakest argument as he defended it, and fundamentally flawed. Beversluis subjects Lewis’ defense of it and his defenders to a barrage of rigorous intellectual attacks. There is the problem of knowing what Jesus claimed, which by itself “is sufficient to rebut the Trilemma.” (p. 115). Also it is a false dilemma. Even if Jesus claimed he was God he could simply be mistaken, not a lunatic, for lunatics can be very reasonable in everyday life and still have delusions of grandeur. And it’s quite possible for someone to be a good moral teacher and yet be wrong about whether he was God. Furthermore, the New Testament itself indicates many people around him including his own family thought he was crazy. In the end, Beversluis claims, “we can now dispense of the Lunatic or Fiend Dilemma once and for all….If the dilemma fails, as I have argued, the trilemma goes with it. In the future, let us hear no more about these arguments.” (p. 135). I agree.

In Lewis’ book, The Problem of Pain, he deals head on with the Problem of Evil coming at the heels of WWII. Suffice it to say, as Victor Reppert summarized the argument of his first book, Beversluis: “If the word ‘good’ must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that ‘good’ in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards.”

This is must reading if you think C.S. Lewis was a great apologist, and it's part of the Debunking Christianity Challenge. Beversluis’ arguments are brilliant and devastating to the apologetics of Lewis and company.

57 comments:

Steven Carr said...

' Keith Parsons who said: “surely Lewis cannot mean that if naturalism is true, then there is no such thing as valid reasoning.'

This is one of the problems.

It is impossible to understand the Argument from Reason, because it is never stated clearly.

This is because it is such a bad argument that its proponents cannot even make a coherent argument out of it.

Basically, it boils down to Lewis not being able to believe that a brain can think, and so inventing a genie that lives in us and does our thinking for us.

Victor Reppert said...

In response to Parsons' comment, that's not how the argument from reason goes. If naturalism is true, then no one ever performs a modus ponens inference, and this can be for a number of different reasons.

1) If naturalism is true, then there are no propositional attitudes. Propositional attitudes are necessary for modus ponens inferences, so no one would actually ever perform a modus ponens inference if naturalism is true.

2) If naturalism is true, then there is no mental causation. One mental event cannot cause the occurrence of another mental event in virtue of its content, if naturalism is true.

3) If naturalism is true, then logical laws have no psychological relevance. Only physical laws can be relevant to physical events if naturalism is true; logical laws will be followed only if the physical order to disposes the brain to follow them. There could be arguments in accordance with reason but never from reason, to use Kantian terminology. I'm not saying that if naturalism is true there would be no logical laws, but rather those laws would not and could not have anything to do with what anyone things.

In other words, the argument says that if naturalism is true, then no one reasons validly. Modus ponens would be eternally a valid form of inference, but that fact would be completely irrelevant to any actual reasoning processes, and would be inoperative.

Victor Reppert said...

Basically, it boils down to Lewis not being able to believe that a brain can think, and so inventing a genie that lives in us and does our thinking for us.

OK: What is a brain? What kinds of causation can go on in a brain, as opposed to the type of causation that can go on elsewhere. One typical constraint that most naturalists would place on attributing activity to a brain is that, in the last analysis, the activity of a brain or anything else that is genuinely physical is free of any purpose. It may fulfil a purpose, but its fulfilling that purpose is simply a system-byproduct which is analyzed out when we analyze it down to the most basic level.

So long as the naturalist feels free to take any mental action and say "the brain did it," all you are doing is personifying the brain in a way that is naturalistically unacceptable. To that I say "Interesting fellow Mr. Brain. Remarkable what he can do."

So long as the causality is fundamentally teleological, it's not naturalistically acceptable, whether you attribute it to the "brain" or not.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,
No one is arguing that science has explained how energy and matter leads to conscious awareness.

But nature does allow us to study the brain and so we can agree that the highly complex organ known as "the brain" has far more to do with consciousness than other parts of the human body. And nature also provides examples of different brains in different bodies/organisms, brains of different sizes and types, from those in amphioxus, a very tiny vertebrate and possibly the closest living relative to all subsequent vertebrates, to the brains of chimpanzees which contain many of the same structures and much of the same DNA as human brains. Also, the fossil evidence provides us with skulls and brain case shapes of species that lived prior to human beings, species with larger brains than any gorilla or chimp living today. We can also study the behaviors of chimpanzees (though sadly we cannot study the behaviors of the early hominids which were most ape-like, nor the late upright apes which were most human-like). But nature has still provided us with lots to study.

In fact if you could substitute single DNA base pairs in the genome of a chimp you could eventually produce a human genome, and a human with a human-like mind (a brain to which you would also then have to add an education and language in order to obtain human thinking patterns and philosophical understanding, for without a human education and language and input from others sharing such cultural evolutionary things that our species acquired with difficulty and over eons, we'd still be grunting instead of speaking).

So a continuing study of nature in my opinion trumps your attempt to short circuit such studies and exclaim that brains and reasoning necessarily involve two things so radically different from one another that one of them has to be "supernatural." You don't know that.

Equally important, haven't you considered that the definition of "physicalism" that you employ in your own head whenever you discuss what is "physical" is itself a mere metaphor? It's not a "solid" definition.

If the brain (and the complex web of energy and memories and inter-relationships it contains) is anything, it is so complex that it is beyond our ability to grasp it's workings simply and easily, because if we could, then we would be so simple we couldn't come up with such questions in the first place. That's about all that philosophy qua philosophy can say about the matter.

And speaking of matter, it's arrangement is crucial. Mere sand and minerals on a beach mixed with electrical energy, if arranged into a computer with its silicon chips (made from minerals also found in sand) can be made into something that is quite different from mere sand. And add in some sensing devices like a camera lens and a computer chip for mental imagery recognition, and perhaps moving wheels on such a computer and it could react to objects in its environment, tell rain from non-rain, and even get out of the rain, acting quite logically. If such can be done with simple silicon chips and matter in nature, then what might not be possible via billions of years of evolution of living reproducing organisms? Might not human brains and consciousness be natural then?

*(This is of course a separate question to the one of whether or not a Designer set the entire evolving cosmos up and running "in the beginning.")

Vic, really, get the metaphor of "physicalism" as billiard balls out of your head already. It's an insufficient metaphor for all the things in the natural world that exist and interact each bringing to light new things at different levels--from atoms to molecules to electro-chemical reactions and ever upward toward whole organs like brains and the differing consciousnesses of various types in organisms with simpler brains to more complex ones over time.

Personally, I'd LOVE to be a dualist, and be able to provide proof like you try to do that human consciousness was separate from the brain and also not subject to the natural world's decay and death I see all around me in all things that live. But philosophical "proofs" strike me as some of the least satisfying when it comes to such questions.

All words and descriptions of this matter involve metaphors, and metaphors are slippery unsatisfying things. See above what I wrote concerning "all that philosophy qua philosophy can say about the matter."

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
IN response to Parson's comment, that's not how the argument from reason goes.

CARR
How come Keith Parsons can read Lewis and still not be able to decrypt his 'arguments'?

Perhaps it is like Tony Hancock trying to read Bertrand Russell and finally giving up saying 'It's not me. It's him. He's just a bad writer.'

But I rather think Keith Parsons is a more able philosopher than Tony Hancock, and would have been able to understand the Argument from Reason, if Lewis had been able to think straight, and actually produce an argument.

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
Only physical laws can be relevant to physical events if naturalism is true;

CARR
If naturalism is true, then the laws of chess are *irrelevant* to the workings of a computer.

Why do people even bother finding out the laws of chess before creating chess playing computers for sale?

They are not even relevant to how the machine works!

Some people are real idiots.

Fancy finding out totally irrelevant non-physical things such as the laws of chess , before creating a physical object such as a chess playing machine.

The laws of chess are no more relevant to how a chess playing machine works than the laws of backgammon.

Just ask Victor, or Lewis.

John W. Loftus said...

Carr, Vic is a respected scholar. I don't appreciate you disrespecting him like you just did simply because you disagree with him like I do.

Although, I agree with your insights.

Shygetz said...

1) If naturalism is true, then there are no propositional attitudes. Propositional attitudes are necessary for modus ponens inferences, so no one would actually ever perform a modus ponens inference if naturalism is true.

Victor, you presume too much when you say that naturalism means that propositional attitudes do not exist. You seem to think that propositional attitudes require some kind of magical medium; why do you assume that?

I have very good evidence that propositional attitudes are wholly couched in matter. I can alter your propositional attitudes using drugs and nothing else. I can alter your propositional attitudes using neurosurgery and nothing else. Both of these mechanisms act solely on matter, and both can alter propositional attitudes in various ways, suggesting that alteration of matter is sufficient to alter propositional attitudes. We currently do not know if alteration of matter is necessary to alter propositional attitudes, but we are getting closer; advanced neural imaging techniques are starting to show physical differences for various propositional attitudes.

The logical inference is that propositional attitudes may well be a function of matter, and in keeping with Occam's razor we should not assume another substance necessary for propositional attitudes. Now, what that says about free will is another very complex question.

2) If naturalism is true, then there is no mental causation. One mental event cannot cause the occurrence of another mental event in virtue of its content, if naturalism is true.

Again, you make the assumption that a mental event has no physical analog. This is simply unfounded at best, and untrue at worst. We know that mental events in many cases are reflected by physical changes in brain chemistry. Time resolved studies to see which comes first, the mental or the physical, are technically challenging. There are some that suggest that physical changes come before mental ones (you send the mental impulse to move your arm before you mentally decide to move your arm) but they should be taken with a tablespoon of salt. Again, though, why assume a magical substance that is not matter, yet interacts with matter in some magical way that we cannot detect but use every day to decide?

3) If naturalism is true, then logical laws have no psychological relevance. Only physical laws can be relevant to physical events if naturalism is true; logical laws will be followed only if the physical order to disposes the brain to follow them. There could be arguments in accordance with reason but never from reason, to use Kantian terminology.

Reason is an inferential model of how our ordered universe works. You can say that you can only make an argument in accordance with reason rather than from reason if you like, but that's just semantics. An argument in accordance with reason is from the laws inferred from observation of the physical universe.

One typical constraint that most naturalists would place on attributing activity to a brain is that, in the last analysis, the activity of a brain or anything else that is genuinely physical is free of any purpose.

What do you mean by free of purpose? I would agree that things are free of external (or higher, if you will) purpose. However, I think that it would be presumptuous to assume that all matter is free from internal purpose.

Let's assume that a sense of purpose can possibly be couched in matter, and see if our observations are consistent with such an assumption. If such a sense could be arrived at by incremental change in a reproductive element, and if such a sense would increase reproductive success, then such a purpose would be arrived at through evolutionary processes. When we look at the evolutionary record, we see gradual increases in mental sophistication, which seem to correlate with increases in consciousness (e.g. the most mentally sophisticated non-human animals are also the ones with the most signs of consciousness). Were duality true, then there is no obvious reason for physical brain sophistication to correlate with cosciousness.

Does consciousness increase fitness? Well, we are reproductively succeeding much more than our closest primate cousins that posess less consciousness, so I would say probably. So, it seems plausible that consciousness would evolve if it were couched in physical matter.

Now, if purpose were couched in physical matter, then it should change given different configurations of matter. We know that no two people have identical configurations of matter. We also know that no two people have identical purposes. Similarly, as I mentioned before, we can alter propositional attitudes (including purpose) using pharmacology and/or surgery to alter the matter.

However, we do know that arrangements of matter that lead to purposes that are helpful for reproductive success will be favored evolutionarily vs. those that don't. So, we would predict that propositional attitudes would tend to group together in attitudes that increased reproductive success--familial and social commitment, reproductive drive, resource gathering and husbanding, a balance between dominance and security in sexual and social matters, etc.

I have not yet seen anything that requires an invocation of duality. Why throw in a magic "mental" substance?

Sorry for the length.

Steven Carr said...

Victor is a respected philosopher.

In which case, he ought not to disrespect computer programmers like me by telling me that purely material mechanisms like computers cannot contain non-material objects like queues, software objects, classes, indexes etc etc etc.

Why should I respect somebody who tells me that I have no idea what I am doing when I go to work each day, and that what I do each and every day of my working life is not 'relevant' to the workings of material objects like computers?

What does Victor think I do for a living? Put nuts and bolts together to make the computer work?

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
So long as the causality is fundamentally teleological....

CARR
Reasoning is fundamentally teleological?

What on earth does this mean?

That philosophers have a set goal, and they use the reasoning which gets them to their chosen goal?

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
One mental event cannot cause the occurrence of another mental event in virtue of its content, if naturalism is true.

CARR
What does this mean?

How is this even relevant to anything?

Take the proposition 'That grass is green'.

By the laws of logic, this produces the conclusion 'That grass is not blue'.

How does the thought 'That grass is green' cause the thought 'That grass is not blue'?

How does the thought 'That grass is green' cause the thought 'That grass is not red'?

How does the thought 'That grass is green' cause the thought 'That grass is not yellow'?

How does the thought 'That grass is green' cause the thought 'That grass is not black'?

And so on...

This what Dennett calls the 'frame' problem.

There are an infinite number of valid logical conclusions from any proposition, and it is obvious to anybody that it is not the *content* of a proposition that causes a chain of reasoning starting from that proposition.

Something else, besides the bare content of our mental events, produces our reasoning.


So Victor's claim 'One mental event cannot cause the occurrence of another mental event in virtue of its content, if naturalism is true.' is not relevant.

For it really is NOT true that the *content* of one mental event causes the occurrence of another mental event.

For then there would be a (possibly) *infinite* number of mental events occurring.

The content of one mental event is not what causes any particular one of those theoretically almost infinite number of subsequent mental events to occur.

Something else is also causing the subsequent mental event.

So Victor's argument runs as follows 'If naturalism is true, then X is false.'

But he has to show that X is false, before he can get anywhere.

And solving the frame problem about our mental events is rather difficult.

Victor Reppert said...

I was explaining the structure of the argument, not attempting to defend the premises. I was making the rather narrow point that Parsons had the structure wrong. At least the argument I have endeavored to defend does not have that kind of structure, and I don't think Lewis's did either.

I dislike using terms like "magical" or "supernatural." I prefer to argue that if there is to be reason in the world, intentional explanations must be basic explanations. Nor am I denying that physical states can be correlated with mental states, or that physical changes can cause mental changes. What I am saying is that when you add up all the truths about how physical states are arranged, they don't entail any unique truths about what the mental states are. Physical states don't, and can't entail mental states, in much the way they don't and can't entail moral truths. Naturalists like Quine and Dennett agree with me on this. Do you think they are wrong?

Physical states, including states of a computer, are indeterminate with respect to mental states. This includes states of a computer playing chess. The programmers create a physical system which mimics proper chess-playing given a framework of meaning provided by humans. The move Rf6 on my computer screen, played by Fritz (who kicks my butt on a daily basis, in case anyone is wondering) has a meaning relative to my understanding of chess, which it itself lacks. It is only by anthropomorphizing the silicon monster do we get determinate meanings for its moves. The laws of chess have nothing to do with what the computer does, but human programmers give it the physical motions of a computer a context of meaning that allows is to see those moves as chess moves.

But if physical states are indeterminate with respect to meaning, can it be that we have no determinate mental states or proposotional attitudes? If so, then it is never literally true that we add, subtract, multiply or divide. Ever read Kripke on Wittgenstein? If we literally perform the operation 2 + 2 = 4, then we understand the meanings of 2, +, and 4. What are thoughts are about must be exactly those meanings. But the physical is indeterminate with respect to mental content. This means that determinacy of meaning must come from someplace other than the physical.

Or maybe we don't literally add, subtract, multiply and divide. We only simulate it. But how do we know what we're simulating, if that's the case.

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
'The laws of chess have nothing to do with what the computer does...'

CARR
The laws of chess obviously do have something to do with what the chess-playing computer does.

To say otherwise is just plain wrong.

This is always the way with Victor.

I literally cannot understand what he is saying.

Apparently Keith Parson had the same trouble trying to understand Lewis argument.

How can physical states be correlated with mental states, and it still be denied that the physical states have meaning?


VICTOR
'If we literally perform the operation 2 + 2 = 4, then we understand the meanings of 2, +, and 4.'

CARR
What is the meaning of '2' '+' and '4'?

Are those symbols meaningless?

If they are literally meaningless , then what is Victor saying by saying that we understand the meaning of them?

If a few black patches on a computer screen can have a meaning, then why are all physical states meaningless?

Why is the physical 'indeterminate' with respect to meaning, yet Victor says that a few black patches on a screen have such a definite meaning that we can process them?

What is meant by 'simulating' addition or subtraction?

If my calculator 'simulates' subtraction by processing a physical state which correlates with '7' together with a physical state which correlates with '13', and displays a light pattern which my brain processes in an incredibly complicated burst of nueronal activity and produces an association with the concept of '6' in me, then has no subtraction of 7 from 13 taken place?

Victor Reppert said...

SC: The laws of chess obviously do have something to do with what the chess-playing computer does.

To say otherwise is just plain wrong.

VR: If there were no such things as chess, and the physical states of the computer were the same as they were in this world, the physical result would be the same. Of course, a chess-free universe would not be likely to provide the antecedent condition of a machine that is like a chess program in the actual world. But if it did exist, it would act like a chess program, even though there was no such thing as chess.

SC: This is always the way with Victor.

I literally cannot understand what he is saying.

VR: I'm sure that's true. I have trouble understanding Kant. I guess Kant must be an idiot.

SC: Apparently Keith Parson had the same trouble trying to understand Lewis argument.

VR: I try to work on being clear. The issues are complex and difficult. Read some Dretske or some Jaegwon Kim and see if they are any easier to understand.

What is the meaning of '2' '+' and '4'?

Are those symbols meaningless?

If they are literally meaningless , then what is Victor saying by saying that we understand the meaning of them?

If a few black patches on a computer screen can have a meaning, then why are all physical states meaningless?

Why is the physical 'indeterminate' with respect to meaning, yet Victor says that a few black patches on a screen have such a definite meaning that we can process them?

VR: Because physically identical worlds can have different mental contents in them, and in a physical world identical to this one there are no one with any mental states at all. In that world, everyone is a zombie.

SC: What is meant by 'simulating' addition or subtraction?

VR: The system is perceived by outsiders as being the addition or subtraction of number, but the system has no internal mental states that reflect any awareness that it is adding or subtracting. It gives of adding/subtracting behavior, but has no inner states that go along with adding or subtracting.

SC: If my calculator 'simulates' subtraction by processing a physical state which correlates with '7' together with a physical state which correlates with '13', and displays a light pattern which my brain processes in an incredibly complicated burst of nueronal activity and produces an association with the concept of '6' in me, then has no subtraction of 7 from 13 taken place?

VR: Unless the calculator is conscious, it is not literally adding. Did you buy a conscious calculator last time you bought one?

Edward said...

VIC: I argue that if there is to be reason in the world, intentional explanations must be basic explanations... What I am saying is that when you add up all the truths about how physical states are arranged, they don't entail any unique truths about what the mental states are.

ED: What is a "basic explanation?" It sounds like you're assuming infinite separation even when you use the word "basic." And how can you assume that the natural world does not encompass both physical and mental states that may lie along a continuum in an overall natural world?

Let me put it to you this way...

Naturalists assume a continuum and that mental states are a unique part of the overall cosmos.

Supernaturalists assume no such continuum, but still seem to be admitting that more and more of our mental states, ideas, and behaviors are indeed capable of being studied scientifically.

So NEITHER SIDE HAS A FULL EXPLANATION. Yet you seem to be demanding one from naturalists, both a full philosophical explanation and a full scientific one.

Now put the shoe on the other foot and let the world know exactly what kind of FULL EXPLANATION the supernaturalist has when it comes to how the brain-mind does what it does.

And please define "supernaturalism" something without using any natural metaphors, or simply adding a negative to things we all know about via nature.

Edward said...

Vic, Please read my previous two messages and let me add that C. S. Lewis's musings on "the cardinal difficulty of naturalism" are nothing compared with

The Cardinal Difficulties of Supernaturalism

Edward said...

Vic,

As for how the brain-mind works, it must involve learning, storage of memories, recursion and continuious feedback.

Even according to the supernaturalist's dualist philosophy we receive input via our physical sensory apparatuses and the information gets stored physically (and some supernaturalists might say it also gets storied in the supernatural realm as well), and then the supernatural consciousness inputs itself back into the physical brain but only after having received input from the physical world. Hence one's lifetime of experiences in the physical world is what goes into one's supernatural mind which then develops due to such physical influences throughoutlife and the supernatural mind sends its messages back into the physical brain to interact with and influence the physical world by physically interacting with other sensory apparatuses of other people with brains, who may influence the brain of the influencer back again, and so forth, input and cyclic changes taking place continually.

The naturalist just says that the added step of hypothesizing that the mind is "supernatural" is not necessary. Not if the learning and memory storage apparatuses, and recursion and continuous cyclic feedback is present.

AND IN FACT IF A PERSON IS TOTALLY SENSORY DEPRIVED such as in a sensory deprivation chamber for a long time, THEY WILL START HAVING SOME CRAZY MAD VISIONS as their brains...

ACHE FOR PHYSICAL SENSORY INPUT.

Victor Reppert said...

I did not introduce the term "supernatural." Lewis used it, but do you remember how he defined it? All he says is something won't fit in to the mindless natural order.
A basic mental explanation is anathema to people like Dennett. I have been attempting to show that there must be basic explanations that are mental in nature.

I've never denied the significance of the brain. My argument is that there can't be a completely mechanistic base level on which everything else supervenes. That's the argument. You apparently accept that argument, so why are you arguing with me?

Shoot, I wouldn't even necessarily call God supernatural. There could conceivably be a science studying God's actions, based on which we could make predictions. If God would let us, we could perform experiments on Him.

Victor Reppert said...

Here's the idea. If reality begins with the Big Bang, and everything is mechanistic after that, where do reasons come from. How is it that anything has a reason for anything, and if so, how does it come to have a reason that the reasoner recognizes?

Maybe the mind is the brain, but purpose and intentionality is basic to certain parts of the brain. We could call that part of the brain the soul if we wanted to. Is it natural? Well, it may have to be ultimately explained in terms of God. But God is a possible subject of scientific inquiry. So even then it would not necessarily be supernatural.

zilch said...

Because physically identical worlds can have different mental contents in them, and in a physical world identical to this one there are no one with any mental states at all. In that world, everyone is a zombie.

Victor, do you have any evidence for this? Unless you can demonstrate that mental contents are not physical states, you are begging the question.

Here's the idea. If reality begins with the Big Bang, and everything is mechanistic after that, where do reasons come from. How is it that anything has a reason for anything, and if so, how does it come to have a reason that the reasoner recognizes?

Reasons and reasoning are evolved entities, just as vision and hearing are. In the beginning, there were no reasoners, and thus no reasons. The ability to reason evolved because it increased our fitness. Thus, while there is no reason for the Universe as a whole, there are a multitude of evolved and evolving reasons within it.

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
If reality begins with the Big Bang, and everything is mechanistic after that, where do reasons come from.

CARR
Is this a gap I see before me? Come, let me clutch thee.

What sorts of objects are animated by reasons? Does a dog ever do anything for a reason?

Insanezenmistress said...

What sorts of objects are animated by reasons? Does a dog ever do anything for a reason?


yes, Treats!

Reason was not invented with the big bang, my brain was not invented with the big bang, Reason is not even a given to all humans and beasts in the same measure across the board either.

It is a skill and it is an ability of the physical brains of some (not the same quality in my dog as it is in my neighbor).

Reason is developed in accord with the ability of a being to Observe, Assimulate, and Use information.

Shygetz said...

If reality begins with the Big Bang, and everything is mechanistic after that, where do reasons come from.

Reasons come from an attempt to justify actions into an internal model of the world that exists in our brain. As I said, the action seems to come before the reason (you move your arm before you are aware of trying to move your arm), which is strong evidence that the conscious reason is post hoc.

What I am saying is that when you add up all the truths about how physical states are arranged, they don't entail any unique truths about what the mental states are.

Bald assertion. There is no evidence that this is true; there is significant evidence that this is false. Mental states are not merely correlated to physical states, they are (at least in every case we can measure thus far) caused by physical states. We have not proven that alterations in physical states are necessary in all cases to change mental states, but we sure as hell have proven they are sufficient in all cases and necessary in some cases.

Physical states don't, and can't entail mental states, in much the way they don't and can't entail moral truths. Naturalists like Quine and Dennett agree with me on this. Do you think they are wrong?

Assuming that you are not mischaracterizing their position (I have read Dennett, and I don't recall him saying that), then yes, I think they are wrong. I have yet to hear a reason why physical states cannot entail mental states, only the bald assertion that they cannot.

The laws of chess have nothing to do with what the computer does, but human programmers give it the physical motions of a computer a context of meaning that allows is to see those moves as chess moves... If there were no such things as chess, and the physical states of the computer were the same as they were in this world, the physical result would be the same.

All you have stated is that the physical states of the computer are dependent upon physical states of other matter for meaning. In order for there to be no such thing as chess, we would have to alter the physical states of human minds in such a manner as to obliterate this knowledge--we know of no way to obliterate knowledge without altering physical states. So all you have done is say that physical states must interact for meaning; physicists have known that physical states must interact for any form of information transfer to occur.

Even if you were to destroy all human knowledge of chess and leave only the computer playing itself, "meaning" still exists; a human (or another computer) could learn chess by watching the computer, even without the human ever knowing about chess. Does the "meaning" only exist if a human cares? You have given humans a privileged status that you have not evidenced.

How does machine learning (especially reinforcement learning) play into your need for duality? I take a machine, I give it a task, and it learns and adapts to that task without my further input (often surprising me with its solutions). All I have done is given the machine a goal (analogous to how evolution has "given" humans the goal of reproduction) and set it loose in its environment. The machine decides for itself how to accomplish that goal through inductive and deductive processes. Along the way, it will choose to do things that I did not tell it to do, some of which will be unrelated or antithetical to its goal. Are these actions random? No. Is there meaning behind them? Yes, unless you choose to beg the question and say there must be a human consciousness for there to be meaning--the machine is trying to optimize its solution to the problem before it.

Because physically identical worlds can have different mental contents in them...

You are begging the question severely here. You have provided no evidence that this is so.

...and in a physical world identical to this one there are no one with any mental states at all. In that world, everyone is a zombie.

You have not demonstrated that such a world is possible given the laws of the universe, and until you do you merely beg the question. The philosophical zombie is an impossibility if mental states are couched in physical states, and to simply argue that you can conceive otherwise is pointless. I can conceive of gravity being a repulsive force, but that doesn't demonstrate that gravity is not an attractive force.

But if physical states are indeterminate with respect to meaning, can it be that we have no determinate mental states or proposotional attitudes? If so, then it is never literally true that we add, subtract, multiply or divide. Ever read Kripke on Wittgenstein? If we literally perform the operation 2 + 2 = 4, then we understand the meanings of 2, +, and 4.

You have not demonstrated that physical states are indeterminate with respect to meaning. 2, +, and 4 do not exist independently of the mathematical model, but the model is couched physically, in my brain and in my computer. Were either one to cease to exist, the model would still exist in my office intact. When you receive the data through physical interactions of your sensory apparatus, your brain undergoes physical changes that, within the evolved physical system of your consciousness, are interpreted as a model of the world. Again, it's just like a computer; you say that when a computer adds it only has meaning because we subscribe it, but that's not true. We program a computer how to add because it's much faster, cheaper, and easier than programming it with an inductive algorithm analogous to the one evolution supplied us with, and then letting it learn math on its own. But there is no conceptual reason why a computer with sufficient resources could not learn that 2+2=4 is an accurate model of the world without my interference. What would then be the difference in meaning?

If reality begins with the Big Bang, and everything is mechanistic after that, where do reasons come from. How is it that anything has a reason for anything, and if so, how does it come to have a reason that the reasoner recognizes?

First of all, everything is not mechanistic after the Big Bang. Quantum mechanics have laid the idea of determinism to rest, and is just waiting for the world to get the memo. The universe as we exist in it is probabilistic, not strict cause-and-effect.

Now, you can think of reasons coming as an effect of the evolution of our brains as adaptive organs. Once we started going down what can be casually called the "smart" path of evolutionary success (as opposed to the "strong" or the "fast" or the "sneaky" paths), we were under tremendous selective pressure to be able to predict the future (which, let's face it, seems to be the point of all practical inquiry) as we are not fast enough, strong enough, or sneaky enough to survive many unexpected bad consequences. We developed a brain that was very good at making models of the world. At the scale in which we live, you can generate models with excellent accuracy using a deterministic model--cause and effect. Therefore, our brain evolved to build a subjective model of the world based on sensory input, and we try to assign causes (or reasons) to everything we can, so we can better predict the future and thus better survive and thrive. Of course evolution is a purely physical process (Lamarkian thoughts have been soundly defeated), so we could only evolve physical processes to do this. So, we evolved a physical system of interpreting physical brain patterns, and a physical system of adapting sensory input into physical patterns in the brain. These physical brain systems result in the subjective mind, which is our model of external reality based on our deterministic calculations of sensory input.

If you choose to embrace duality, then among your other problems you must tell us how man gained the second nature. As I said earlier, evolution is known to be a purely physical process. At some point in time, man's ancestors existed without consciousness (exactly what point that was is unimportant for this discussion--go all the way back to single cells if you wish). Evolution drove us to some point where we gained consciousness. If consciousness does not exist in the physical realm, then how did we gain it through a purely physical process?

If you are driven to postulate God, then you have just failed at science. God explains everything, and therefore nothing; it cannot be tested or disproven, and is worthless as an explanitory unit. God cannot be tested by science because it is not a coherent idea--it changes with the whim of the faithful to always remain a step away from the edges of science.

Victor Reppert said...

VR: Because physically identical worlds can have different mental contents in them, and in a physical world identical to this one there are no one with any mental states at all. In that world, everyone is a zombie.

Zilch: Victor, do you have any evidence for this? Unless you can demonstrate that mental contents are not physical states, you are begging the question.

VR: Because, no amount of physical information can entail any definitive conclusion concerning mental content. This is the point of arch-naturalist W. V. Quine's argument for the indeterminacy of translation in Word and Object. Physical facts do not logically entail mental facts, just as physical facts do not logically entail moral facts. Getting an "about" from an "is" is just as impossible as getting an "ought" from an is, and for much the same reason. Even if mental states were token-identical to brain states, the brain facts do not and cannot entail the mental facts. So why do the mental facts exist?

Shygetz: Let's assume that a sense of purpose can possibly be couched in matter, and see if our observations are consistent with such an assumption. If such a sense could be arrived at by incremental change in a reproductive element, and if such a sense would increase reproductive success, then such a purpose would be arrived at through evolutionary processes. When we look at the evolutionary record, we see gradual increases in mental sophistication, which seem to correlate with increases in consciousness (e.g. the most mentally sophisticated non-human animals are also the ones with the most signs of consciousness). Were duality true, then there is no obvious reason for physical brain sophistication to correlate with cosciousness.

VR: Evolution can explain the development of mental states only if mental contents can play a causal role. If mental contents are epiphenomenal, then they are invisible to evolution. If the physical is causally closed, and physical states are insufficient to determine mental contents, that means that mental contents are epiphenomenal. It doesn't matter what they are or whether they exist or not. The physical will go its merry way regardless of them, and evolution, if it is purely physicalistic, will select for the physical substrate regardless of what the mental content is. Therefore the argument that reliable belief-forming mechanisms will be selected for by evolution goes by the boards.

Shygetz: Does consciousness increase fitness? Well, we are reproductively succeeding much more than our closest primate cousins that posess less consciousness, so I would say probably. So, it seems plausible that consciousness would evolve if it were couched in physical matter.

VR: This is considered to be a huge problem, however, which David Chalmers calls the Hard Problem of Consciousness. How can consciousness be physical. Plenty of people, like Chalmers, Colin McGinn, and even Jaegwon Kim, think that this is a complete mystery from the point of view of naturalism.

VR: You have not demonstrated that such a world is possible given the laws of the universe, and until you do you merely beg the question. The philosophical zombie is an impossibility if mental states are couched in physical states, and to simply argue that you can conceive otherwise is pointless. I can conceive of gravity being a repulsive force, but that doesn't demonstrate that gravity is not an attractive force.

VR: What do you mean by "couched in " physical states. Do you mean type-identical to physical states, or token-identical states, or supervenient upon physical states. I can conceive of a philosophical zombie without contradicting myself. If it isn't a self-contradictory idea, then it's logically possible, and we need to know why it is not the case.

Shygetz: If you are driven to postulate God, then you have just failed at science. God explains everything, and therefore nothing; it cannot be tested or disproven, and is worthless as an explanitory unit. God cannot be tested by science because it is not a coherent idea--it changes with the whim of the faithful to always remain a step away from the edges of science.

VR: One can conceive God in such a way that one can make testable theistic hypotheses. Lots of people say that theistic claims are untestable, nut no one ever proves it.

zilch said...

Okay, Victor, you are going to have to unpack this for me. You say:

Physical facts do not logically entail mental facts, just as physical facts do not logically entail moral facts.

I'm sorry, but I can't for the life of me figure out what this is supposed to mean. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but it seems to me that you are already assuming that "mental facts" are not physical states of the brain, which is what remains to be demonstrated. Until you can show evidence that mental states are not physical states (and you have not said what they might be, if not physical), I will have to go along with shygetz.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't know of any contemporary philosopher of mind who holds that all mental state types are identical to physical state types, such that, if I am thinking the sunset is beautiful tonight, and you are thinking the sunset is beautiful tonight, there is a type of state that we are both in that neuroscience can identify that makes it the case that we are both having the same thought. So when we say mental states are brain states, what do we mean?

In order for the mind-brain identity thesis to explain the mind's existence in a physical world, we have to identify all mental properties with physical properties. That means that "thinking I want some orange juice" has to me the same type of brain state in me that it is in you, and if you want to say computers can be in states like this, it has to be the same state in a computer. How is that possible?

If this type of reductionism isn't true, then when you give all the properties of physical states, there are some mental properties left unexplained. Just saying that they are properties of some brain state isn't good enough. We then would need to know how a physical state manage to get a hold of some mental properties. Good luck with that.

zilch said...

I don't know of any contemporary philosopher of mind who holds that all mental state types are identical to physical state types, such that, if I am thinking the sunset is beautiful tonight, and you are thinking the sunset is beautiful tonight, there is a type of state that we are both in that neuroscience can identify that makes it the case that we are both having the same thought. So when we say mental states are brain states, what do we mean?

Thank you Victor- this I understand. I agree that the physical states of two brains that are both thinking "the sunset is beautiful tonight" are almost certain to be quite different. Of course, neuroscience is not up to reading minds yet, so it might be some time before we find what thoughts look like. Certainly, thinking "the sunset is beautiful tonight" is a great deal more complex than the character set for the sentence in ASCII, where it would be identical in two computers. But what does that mean?

I would say, that it is facile to claim that you and I can have the "same" thought: there are all kinds of connotations and imagery and remembrances associated with such thoughts that are an ineluctable part of our thoughts; so however these are represented by the state of our brains, they are going to be different for the two of us. This is not to say that there may not be similar patterns or relations that may be recognized, although we are a long way from knowing what such patterns might look like.

Not only that, but I suspect (although I'm no neuroscientist) that individual brains are structured somewhat differently, because of both genetic and acquired differences, and thus the physical states associated with similar thoughts are likely to be mapped somewhat differently.

You say:

In order for the mind-brain identity thesis to explain the mind's existence in a physical world, we have to identify all mental properties with physical properties. That means that "thinking I want some orange juice" has to me the same type of brain state in me that it is in you, and if you want to say computers can be in states like this, it has to be the same state in a computer. How is that possible?

Again, I would say that the "same" type of brain state cannot be identical, but is likely to be analogous or mappable somehow, in theory anyway. It's similar, but of course far more complex, to this question: what do

a) "I want orange juice", and

b) "Ich möchte Apfelsinnensaft"

have in common? No words are in common, but they mean the "same thing". Not exactly, but close enough for jazz. They are "about" the "same" thing. The ability to recognize similarities is of obvious utility, so it is not surprising that it has evolved in us and other thinking animals.

Victor, you say:

If this type of reductionism isn't true, then when you give all the properties of physical states, there are some mental properties left unexplained. Just saying that they are properties of some brain state isn't good enough. We then would need to know how a physical state manage to get a hold of some mental properties. Good luck with that.

Again, you are putting the cart before the horse, and assuming that there are "mental states" which are not "physical states", which is what remains to be demonstrated. Of course there are things left unexplained about how we think, and it might well be that we never understand how our brains work completely. But I fail to see how an appeal to dualism helps explain anything.

cheers from cold, overcast, unbeautiful sunsetty Vienna, zilch

John W. Loftus said...

Sorry I haven't been able to contribute to this discussion. I've been busy with other things, but I think the respondents here are doing well without me.

Victor Reppert said...

The advantage of dualism is that we don't have to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for the mental in terms of the non-mental The mental is sui generis and fundamental. You don't have to explain the normative in terms of the non-normative, the perspectival in terms of the nonperspectival, the intentional in terms of the non-intentional, the purposive in terms of the non-purposive. Physical data is insufficient to determine what our thoughts are about, but I'd like to think that when I add, subtract, multiply, divide, square numbers and take square roots I know bloody well exactly what I mean, because I have a unique perspective on my own thoughts seeing as how I'm the one that's thinking them. That is what I am convinced you have to give up if materialism is true.

zilch said...

The advantage of dualism is that we don't have to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for the mental in terms of the non-mental The mental is sui generis and fundamental.

Victor, you'll have to excuse me if I'm being dense, but this sounds like a "Dualism of the Gaps" argument to me, viz: "if there are things we can't explain (and we most certainly can't explain thoughts yet), then there must be a supernatural Thing that takes care of them, out of our sight and understanding." To suggest, as you seem to do, that the problems we have reconciling brain states with mental states are a matter of logical incompatibility, and not just a matter of lack of scientific knowledge, is unmotivated by the evidence, imho.

Physical data is insufficient to determine what our thoughts are about,[...]

So far, and perhaps forever; but I don't see any binding reasons why physical data shouldn't someday be sufficient to determine what our thoughts are about...

but I'd like to think that when I add, subtract, multiply, divide, square numbers and take square roots I know bloody well exactly what I mean, because I have a unique perspective on my own thoughts seeing as how I'm the one that's thinking them. That is what I am convinced you have to give up if materialism is true.

Why do you have to give that up if materialism is true? Barring the creation of a doppelgänger, your perspective remains unique. Meanings are slippery things, to be sure; trying to precisely define what constitutes an analogy, or a mapping, or a correlation, is tricky. The best explorations of these issues I know of are those by Richard Hofstadter, in Metamagical Themas and Le Ton Beau de Marot. I recommend these books to anyone interested in language and meaning- they are very accessible, full of insights, and warm and entertaining.

In any case- tricky though considering thought is, I still fail to see how dualism makes it any clearer: it is rather an admission of defeat.

Shygetz said...

I don't know of any contemporary philosopher of mind who holds that all mental state types are identical to physical state types, such that, if I am thinking the sunset is beautiful tonight, and you are thinking the sunset is beautiful tonight, there is a type of state that we are both in that neuroscience can identify that makes it the case that we are both having the same thought.

Do you honestly think that, were we both admiring the sunset, we would be having the same thought? Honestly, either that is naive beyond reckoning or you just haven't thought about it. When you look at a sunset and see it is beautiful, this thought of beauty does not exist in a mental vacuum. You are comparing it to other sunsets you have seen, thinking about events that the sunset remind you of, thinking about how you came to see this sunset, etc., all of which are different from how I am seeing the sunset. I mean, this notion is quite amenable to analogy to show how silly it is; let's say you and I both have an apple. Do we have two identical physical objects? Of course not! So why do you insist mental states are different?

So when we say mental states are brain states, what do we mean?

We mean that each mental state corresponds to one and only one brain state. However, you labor under the misconception that when you think "apple" and I think "apple" we have the same brain state. We do not--when you think "apple" what color fruit are you imagining? What size, what exact shape, shiny or dull, alone or in a context? If "apple" doesn't refer to a single unique physical state, what makes you think it refers to a single unique mental one.

The advantage of dualism is that we don't have to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for the mental in terms of the non-mental The mental is sui generis and fundamental.

And the only way you can do this is to posit something that interacts intimately with physical matter and can be strongly affected by physical matter while remaining somehow distinct from physical matter in some manner you have yet to even attempt to explain. I hope you are not trying to imply that dualism is more simple than physicalism, because it is not by some undefined by doubtlessly large amount. You are positing an entire new branch of physics based on a substance that violates its current laws.

Physical data is insufficient to determine what our thoughts are about...

Yet again, you make a bald assertion that actually flies in the face of (admittedly incomplete) evidence. Do you have any evidence that this is true? If so, by all means present it. If not, you are not making an argument--you are declaring by fiat. Argument is necessary, sir; I don't think anyone here will be convinced by raw audacity. Show me a reason to think that physical data are insufficient to determine mental states--otherwise, you merely continue to beg the question.

but I'd like to think that when I add, subtract, multiply, divide, square numbers and take square roots I know bloody well exactly what I mean, because I have a unique perspective on my own thoughts seeing as how I'm the one that's thinking them.

Ah, now you are at least starting down the right path. Have you ever, and I mean EVER, added, subtracted, or manipulated powers in a mental vacuum? No; you always bring along your "unique perspective" which changes your mental state. Computers can add in a vacuum; if I take two identical computers and have one add 2 + 2, then take another computer and manipulate its physical states so they replicate the first one exactly, the second computer will have added 2 + 2. What is the reason to think that the human brain is different when adding 2 + 2?

That is what I am convinced you have to give up if materialism is true.

Why? You have not yet posited a single valid argument, just asserted that this is so. So why are you convinced that this is so?

Victor Reppert said...

VR: So when we say mental states are brain states, what do we mean?

Shygetz: We mean that each mental state corresponds to one and only one brain state. However, you labor under the misconception that when you think "apple" and I think "apple" we have the same brain state. We do not--when you think "apple" what color fruit are you imagining? What size, what exact shape, shiny or dull, alone or in a context? If "apple" doesn't refer to a single unique physical state, what makes you think it refers to a single unique mental one.

VR: There are, of course, various chairs, some made of different stuff and some different colors, but there is something that makes them all chairs. Doesn't everyone's thought of an apple have to have something physical in common if it is a physical state.

More, A can correspond to B without being identical to B, so there has to be more to identity than correspondence.

Causal role is determined by physical structure. If there is nothing about the property "being a thought about a pencil" that is identical to some particular physical state-type, then the mental state-type cannot be causally relevant.

Shygetz: And the only way you can do this is to posit something that interacts intimately with physical matter and can be strongly affected by physical matter while remaining somehow distinct from physical matter in some manner you have yet to even attempt to explain. I hope you are not trying to imply that dualism is more simple than physicalism, because it is not by some undefined by doubtlessly large amount. You are positing an entire new branch of physics based on a substance that violates its current laws.

VR: No problem. We need this one in order to preserve the logical foundations of science.

Shygetz: Yet again, you make a bald assertion that actually flies in the face of (admittedly incomplete) evidence. Do you have any evidence that this is true? If so, by all means present it. If not, you are not making an argument--you are declaring by fiat. Argument is necessary, sir; I don't think anyone here will be convinced by raw audacity. Show me a reason to think that physical data are insufficient to determine mental states--otherwise, you merely continue to beg the question.

VR: It's very simple really. Identity claims are necessary truths. In order for physical states to determine intentional states uniquely, it must be logically contradictory to deny the mental state once the physical information is given. Postulate any amount of physicalistic information you want, and you will never get anything that logically entails the existence of a mental state. The only way to get an argument that has a conclusion "X is about B" is to have intentional states in the premises. It doesn't matter how much physical information you give, it will always be logically possible for me to deny the existence of the mental state without logical contradiction.

The irreducibility of intentional states to physical states is held by many philosophers, many of whom, like Donald Davidson, are philosophical naturalists. There is also the argument that intentional-state attributions involve normative elements, and therefore, cannot follow necessarily from the existence of physical states. Many naturalists accept a dualism of properties but try to avoid a dualism of substances. The problem the arises as to how those nonphysical properties fit into a physical world, and also how non-physical properties can possibly be causally relevant.

Shygetz: Ah, now you are at least starting down the right path. Have you ever, and I mean EVER, added, subtracted, or manipulated powers in a mental vacuum? No; you always bring along your "unique perspective" which changes your mental state. Computers can add in a vacuum; if I take two identical computers and have one add 2 + 2, then take another computer and manipulate its physical states so they replicate the first one exactly, the second computer will have added 2 + 2. What is the reason to think that the human brain is different when adding 2 + 2?

VR: Computers have no first-person perspective. Therefore, they do not literally add 2 + 2. They do not perceive the relationship amongst the meanings. We perceive those relationships. However, physical facts are not perspectival. If my perspective determines how atoms go in my brain, we have a non-publicly accessible fact that determines physical states. That's not considered good naturalism.

It's like taking a bunch of indicative facts about the world and concluding the existence of an objectively binding moral obligation. You have to wrong type of facts on the one side to draw the proper conclusions on the other.

You have to go from facts are not subjective or perspectival, not normative, not intentional, and not purposive, and yet these facts have to entail truths that are subjective/perspectival, normative, intentional and purposive. That is a good deal more than just a question about how the bacterial flagellum got engineered.

See this on the god of the gaps complaint. http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2008/01/blog-post.html

zilch said...

There are, of course, various chairs, some made of different stuff and some different colors, but there is something that makes them all chairs. Doesn't everyone's thought of an apple have to have something physical in common if it is a physical state.

More, A can correspond to B without being identical to B, so there has to be more to identity than correspondence.


Victor, would you consider yourself a Platonist? If so, then I think I understand your point of view better: that some aspect of any thought is like a Platonic ideal, which can be said to be identical to someone else's thought on the same subject, be it sunsets or apples.

Therein lies the problem. As shygetz and I have been arguing, two people thinking about the "same" subject are not thinking the same thing: each of us has a unique set of connotations, memories, and personal penchants that color and complicate our thoughts. Thus, while there must be correspondences between your thoughts about apples and mine, there is no identity. Even if we are both thinking "2+2=4", there will be differences in our thoughts, which means that our brain states will be different.

The only cases where "identity" of concepts may reasonably be defended are in formal systems of logic, such as mathematics or computer programs, which can be translated without loss or gain of information from one system to another.

An example would be two computers adding two and two. The programs might be different, but the process of adding two and two to get four can be rigidly defined mathematically and admits of no ambiguity; thus it could be said that the addition is identical in two computers.

Not so for two people adding two and two: while the mathematical core might be the same (or not- perhaps one person is just repeating names of configurations that he learned, without understanding the math involved), and repeatably shown to result in both people typing in identical characters on their computers, their thoughts while adding are not identical in the simple way that two computer's cogitations are.

So far. If our thoughts are physical, and I see no reason to assume they are not, it is theoretically possible to build robots that think the way people do. But that's "Zukunftsmusik", as they say here: music of the future.

I would say the same thing about chairs: can you really define "chair" in your mind in such a way that it is unambiguous, and thus possibly identical, to someone else's definition of "chair"? Again, while your definition of "chair" and mine will have a lot of overlap, and be close enough to be useful, our two definitions correspond to one another; they will not be identical in our thoughts. Of course, when pressed to write down our definitions of "chair", we might use the same set of characters, and we could say that what we've written is identical. But we are talking about thoughts here.

Postulate any amount of physicalistic information you want, and you will never get anything that logically entails the existence of a mental state.

With all due respect, this looks like an example of how philosophy decoupled from empiricism leads to false conclusions. Since we are a long ways from understanding how thought works, there's no way we can demonstrate that the physical information in our brain "logically" entails mental states- yet. But to say that we will "never" get there is an article of faith.

The only way to get an argument that has a conclusion "X is about B" is to have intentional states in the premises. It doesn't matter how much physical information you give, it will always be logically possible for me to deny the existence of the mental state without logical contradiction.

I don't see how this demonstrates anything about the nature of mental states. Intentional states are just a kind of reasoning that goes on in our brains, running on our wetware like everything else. What sort of magical ingredient is necessary for intentional states that physical materials don't have?

Computers have no first-person perspective. Therefore, they do not literally add 2 + 2. They do not perceive the relationship amongst the meanings. We perceive those relationships.

Depends on what you mean by "literally". I could argue that only computers "literally" add two and two, because they do it without all the baggage that people do. Of course they don't "understand" the implications in the real world of adding two and two. Yet.

However, physical facts are not perspectival. If my perspective determines how atoms go in my brain, we have a non-publicly accessible fact that determines physical states. That's not considered good naturalism.

I would rather say, they way atoms go in your brain determines, or rather constitutes, your perspective. And if by "publicly accesible", you include the possibility of a future brain scanner that can read your mind, then these facts are indeed publicly accessible.

It's like taking a bunch of indicative facts about the world and concluding the existence of an objectively binding moral obligation. You have to wrong type of facts on the one side to draw the proper conclusions on the other.

Again, it depends on what you mean by "objective". If you believe that moral obligations are sui generis, and exist apart from beings with particular evolved traits, then I would say that you are correct. Otherwise not.

You have to go from facts are not subjective or perspectival, not normative, not intentional, and not purposive, and yet these facts have to entail truths that are subjective/perspectival, normative, intentional and purposive. That is a good deal more than just a question about how the bacterial flagellum got engineered.

Here is where an evolutionary perspective is useful, and not just for the flagellum. Once one sees that all these kinds of truths are not primordial qualities of the Universe, but ways of considering things that have themselves evolved with the evolution of life and rationality, then many of these classical philosophical conundra that seem to require dualism simply evaporate.

cheers from slushy Vienna, zilch

Rino said...

Hi Steven,

Pardon me for coming into the discussion late. You seem to be frustrated by the suggestion that computers can't reason, and you ask:

"What sorts of objects are animated by reasons? Does a dog ever do anything for a reason?"

Perhaps it would be helpful to unpack the meaning of the term 'reason', in order to clarify. For me, intelligence, or teleology, or rationality, involves two elements:

1) Having some goal
2) Accomplishing that goal

We tacitly assume these two elements when we think someone is being irrational. Ie, if someone has the goal to win at chess, but then puts the king in a position to be checkmated, we say 'that is irrational'. If someone had the goal of losing at chess, ie, he felt bad for his opponent, and did the same move, it would not be considered irrational. Rationality is measured based on having a goal and accomplishing the goal.

The problem with physicalism, is, by definition, teleology has been vacuumed out of the universe. It is not possible for nature to have a goal (if you disagree with this, I will be quite happy, but I'm quite sure most physicalists will be happy to admit that time and chance is the key factor rather than some designer/purpose). so, going back to the original criteria for rationality, it fails with (1). Matter/Energy does not have a goal. So, no matter what it does, the brain is not acting rationally, because in the final analysis, it is just particles in motion.

Your 'computer' example does not work, because you have given the computer a goal: ie, successfully do the task you want the program to do, or successfully steer electrical impulses through logic gates. You are the 'god' of that system, you created it for your purpose, and it is rational/working if it achieves your purposes. If you have no purpose for the computer, ie, you are writing random code, then whatever outcome this code brings about will not be a failure or irrational, because it wasn't really trying to do anything anyway.

As for the dog, the question of 'does a dog do anything for a reason', boils down to:

1)Does a dog have a goal, ie, find a bone.
2)Does a dog achieve the goal, ie, does he find the bone.

If you say yes to (1), doesn't this make teleology a part of the universe? I have no problem with admiting to (1), because I do believe that teleology is part of the cosmos, but I can't admit to this without admitting that there is more than blind chance. If in the final analysis the dog is acting by blind chance, then he has the appearance of acting for a reason, but he is not.

Anyway, you need not agree with the way I define 'reason', but please feel free to offer an alternate definition, so we can sort out whether computers and dogs are rational.

zilch said...

rino, you say:

The problem with physicalism, is, by definition, teleology has been vacuumed out of the universe. It is not possible for nature to have a goal (if you disagree with this, I will be quite happy, but I'm quite sure most physicalists will be happy to admit that time and chance is the key factor rather than some designer/purpose).

I don't want to speak for steven, but I hope I may sneak my € 0.02 (that's about $ 0.03 for you Americans) here. If, by "teleology", you simply mean "goal-directed reasoning", I'm sure most physicalists would be more than happy to grant you that it exists in nature. That's not to say that nature as a whole is teleological, but there are certainly many goal-oriented systems within nature. And there are plenty of designers and purposes too, which have also evolved.

Time and chance alone are most unlikely to produce systems with goals and purposes, however. The only way we know of that that can happen, is with something like natural selection: time plus chance plus some kind of sorting principle, such that systems that succeed are more likely to be copied. Since goal-oriented behavior succeeds here, it has evolved. No problem for materialism.

cheers from cool Vienna, zilch

Rino said...

Hi Zilch,

Thanks for the comments. Perhaps even more clarification is needed then. May I ask, what do we mean by 'goal'?

Presumably, it either means:
a) A goal given from something outside they system.

b) A goal given by the system itself.

Now, since you suggest that nature as a whole has no teleology, nor is there any other intellect steering things from outside, then (a) would be out. There simply is no outside source programming goals into the system. Or, if there is, what is this outside source?

So, perhaps we opt for (b)? But doesn't this imply that 1)the system is able to conceive of its own goals 2)the system is freely able to bring the goals about. If so, we seem to no longer be talking about such things as lungs, trees, amoeba's, for they probably have no capacity for cognizing their own goals, or for acting against the determinism of their lower level physics. So, we are dealing with perhaps only human minds (perhaps other animal minds as well). So, wouldn't these human minds have to fulfill the same requirements? Namely, human minds would have to be able to construct its own goals, not just the goals that pop up from bottom level physics. And, the system would have to be able to freely bring about those goals, not under compulsion of bottom level physics. Both of these requirements seem impossible if we are to accept causal closure of the microphysical realm. One way to get around this would be to suppose that teleology is present in microphysics. But, would a physicalist want to admit of this? If so, this seems like teleology is everywhere. If not, how are the higher level purposes not epiphenomenal, since causal exclusion would insist that the bottom level is the real cause, and it is not a teleological cause.

Anyway, I'm not sure if this is clear. I'm just trying to understand exactly how a physicalist will generate teleology out of the conceptual resources of chance and luck. Any clarification would help.

Tom G said...

I'm jumping in here late, too, but I noticed an interesting pair of thoughts:

zilch, 1:30 am, 1/05/08:

Victor, you'll have to excuse me if I'm being dense, but this sounds like a "Dualism of the Gaps" argument to me...

zilch, 1:24 am, 1/6/08
Since we are a long ways from understanding how thought works, there's no way we can demonstrate that the physical information in our brain "logically" entails mental states- yet....

Of course they don't "understand" the implications in the real world of adding two and two. Yet.


Theists are excoriated for saying some (not all, but some) gaps in our knowledge of the natural universe can be answered by reference to God. Naturalists say instead, "certainly someday we'll know; science will tell us the answer, and it will be naturalistic." Is this not the Scientific Promissory Note of the Gaps?

Tom G said...

SHYGETZ:
And the only way you can do this is to posit something that interacts intimately with physical matter and can be strongly affected by physical matter while remaining somehow distinct from physical matter in some manner you have yet to even attempt to explain. I hope you are not trying to imply that dualism is more simple than physicalism, because it is not by some undefined by doubtlessly large amount. You are positing an entire new branch of physics based on a substance that violates its current laws.

TOM G:
Requests to explain dualism seem to revert, rather atavistically if you ask me, to requests to explaining it physically. It's as if no explanation is an explanation unless it is a physical explanation. Shygetz says it would be "an entire new branch of physics." I suppose we could grant the benefit of the doubt there and suppose that Shygetz knows this must be metaphorical; dualism absolutely does not posit a new branch of physics. It posits another kind of substance, but not a physical one.

The interaction between this other kind of substance and physical substances cannot be explained in physical terms. The modern world has become accustomed to explanations being physical, and assumes that this means that all explanations are and forever must be just physical. That dualism cannot provide such explanations therefore means it is false.

Dualism posits an exchange between the physical and the non-physical, though, and of necessity some of that exchange must be non-physical. If it were just physical, some kind of gluon exchange or some such, then that would have to be an exchange between physical things, and we would not have answered what mediates the exchange at the point where the nonphysical interacts.

So does this tell against dualism? It does mean we can't describe the interaction; we don't have the tools for it. Then what? That frustrates the committed naturalist who presumes every phenomenon can, in principle be explained scientifically (see the Scientific Promissory Note of the Gaps, above). It does not, however, make dualism internally incoherent.

My response to Shygetz on this charge, then, would be, "yes, we are positing something that interacts intimately with physical matter and can be strongly affected by physical matter while remaining somehow distinct from physical matter in some manner you have yet to even attempt to explain." I wouldn't attempt to explain it physically, that is, because I know physicalist tools of explanation are inappropriate to the case.

But I can still point to it happening: My thought T regarding Premises 1 and 2 of this syllogism led me to the thought C regarding its conclusion, which in turn led me to speak it aloud. If we can show (as I think Victor is successfully arguing) that at least some aspect of thoughts T and C, and the premises, must be nonphysical in nature, then we ought to feel no embarrassment in not being able to show an unbroken physical line of causation between those thoughts and our speaking. Why should there be a physical line of causation? Why should explanations have to be just physical?

Tom G said...

SHYGETZ:
If you are driven to postulate God, then you have just failed at science. God explains everything, and therefore nothing; it cannot be tested or disproven, and is worthless as an explanitory unit. God cannot be tested by science because it is not a coherent idea--it changes with the whim of the faithful to always remain a step away from the edges of science.

TOM G:
(a) God is not just a postulate to which we are driven as the outcome. God is known (by Christians) through a thorough-going revelation He has provided.

(b) Believers in God do not "fail at science," unless you consider Newton and Faraday to be failures.

(c) God is not resorted to as an explanation in lieu of natural processes, by thinking believers, except in cases where natural causes are quite clearly and in principle incapable of explaining a situation. (That would include cases where natural explanations may be possible in some sense but are too wildly improbable to be credible.)

That theists just give up on science is a theory of atheists, with no sociological or empirical support and with a false theoretical basis.

Victor Reppert said...

If you are depending for your case on the future course of science, can you at the very least admit that science could provide no reasonable reduction of mind to brain and, at the end of the day, make the gap wider instead of narrower? That's what usually gets left out of "God of the gaps objections." The history of science is not an unbroken history of successful intertheoretic reductions. Sometimes the looked for reductions work, sometimes they don't, and sometimes science makes progress by recognizing that reduction has failed. (Angus Menuge's outstanding Agents Under Fire makes this case very forcefully).

In the meantime, when I see attempts to analyze mental states in terms of the physical, I see two things typically going on. 1) Intentional states are re-described in terms of other mental states and attributed to "the brain." That's not a reduction, that's shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. To that I say "Remarkable fellow Mr. Brain. Amazing what he can do." The other is to redescribe the mental in such a way that it is no longer recognizable as the mental, producing subtle or explicit versions of eliminative materialism.

zilch said...

Hi rino! You say:

Thanks for the comments. Perhaps even more clarification is needed then. May I ask, what do we mean by 'goal'?

Presumably, it either means:
a) A goal given from something outside they system.

b) A goal given by the system itself.

Now, since you suggest that nature as a whole has no teleology, nor is there any other intellect steering things from outside, then (a) would be out. There simply is no outside source programming goals into the system. Or, if there is, what is this outside source?


Here again, an evolutionary perspective is helpful. What exactly are "goals"? Where do "goals" come from? Before there was life, there was nothing we would call goals, because there were no beings to have goals. But now we have gazillions of creatures with goals. How did they start?

The simplest goals, and arguably the basis for all more sophisticated goals living things can have, are:

a) maintain integrity/grow
b) reproduce

Now, it could be argued that certain non-living things, under some conditions, "pursue" these two goals: crystals precipitating out of solution maintain their integrity and grow, and they can seed other solutions and reproduce. This is admittedly not what most would consider goal-oriented behavior, but the very first life forms were probably not much more sophisticated in their pursuit of goals than this.

So where do these goals come from? They started out as the behavior of chance combinations of stuff that managed to hold together and reproduce, and then natural selection kicked in: things that reproduced more successfully prospered. Note that "goals", at this stage, are not conscious thoughts; they are simply the way such organisms are ordered. Later on, we get brains, and with them thoughts and conscious goals. Still later, we get philosophers wondering where goals come from. There is no hard and fast line that can be drawn between the unconscious built-in goals of amoebas and the best laid plans of mice and men: they are connected by a vast, ancient, broad, unbroken lineage of passing on what works to keep us going.

So, do goals originate from within living things, or without? I would say, some of both: living things evolve goals by mutation; and natural selection acts to preserve those living things whose goals work.

Your further concerns about "causal exclusion" and "causal closure" seem inapplicable, when one realizes that teleology is not a given primordial quality of the Universe, but is an evolved system, whose exact beginning is arbitrarily based on definition.

I'm just trying to understand exactly how a physicalist will generate teleology out of the conceptual resources of chance and luck. Any clarification would help.

I hope this helped clarify my position. As I said, chance and luck alone are most unlikely to generate teleology: natural selection, which is anything but luck, is necessary to generate the kind of order necessary for the higher-level teleologies we see at play, for instance right here in our minds today. Dualists commonly underestimate the power of natural selection as a source of order. For a glimpse at how quickly goal-oriented behavior can evolve in a physical system (computer programs) check out this.

tom g, you say, after quoting me:

Theists are excoriated for saying some (not all, but some) gaps in our knowledge of the natural universe can be answered by reference to God. Naturalists say instead, "certainly someday we'll know; science will tell us the answer, and it will be naturalistic." Is this not the Scientific Promissory Note of the Gaps?

1) Perhaps some naturalists say that science will someday fill all gaps in our knowledge. But I don't know any that do, and I didn't say so myself. If you had read all my comments, you would have found me saying:

"Of course there are things left unexplained about how we think, and it might well be that we never understand how our brains work completely."

and:

"[Physical data is insufficient to determine what our thoughts are about] So far, and perhaps forever"

That's a far cry from being "certain" that science will fill all gaps. However,

2) I am confident that science will continue to fill gaps in our knowledge: which ones, and how far, remains to be seen. Is this an article of faith on my part? No, it's simply a realistic prognosis based on the track record of science. The track record of religion in explaining the natural world, and in revising its explanations in the face of new data, is miserable, to say the least.

Victor, you say:

If you are depending for your case on the future course of science, can you at the very least admit that science could provide no reasonable reduction of mind to brain and, at the end of the day, make the gap wider instead of narrower? That's what usually gets left out of "God of the gaps objections."

I don't think anyone would claim that science has anything approaching a complete reduction of mind to brain yet. As far as the gap becoming wider, I would say that if hypotheses are defenestrated, and we see that we were wrong, then the gap is narrowed, not widened; it wasn't really ever narrower, if the explanations turned out to be wrong.

Sometimes the looked for reductions work, sometimes they don't, and sometimes science makes progress by recognizing that reduction has failed.

Science works by finding out what works and what doesn't, yes. But at least in areas properly under the purview of science, and I would say that the function of the brain qualifies, science does not progress by recognizing that "reduction" has failed, but by recognizing that some particular "reduction" has failed.

In the meantime, when I see attempts to analyze mental states in terms of the physical, I see two things typically going on. 1) Intentional states are re-described in terms of other mental states and attributed to "the brain." That's not a reduction, that's shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. To that I say "Remarkable fellow Mr. Brain. Amazing what he can do." The other is to redescribe the mental in such a way that it is no longer recognizable as the mental, producing subtle or explicit versions of eliminative materialism.

Granted, we don't know enough to say exactly what's going on in the brain. But again, I don't see why one need presuppose anything other than our wetware for "intentional states" or any other mental states. What is special about thoughts that requires us to invoke magic?

Tom Gilson said...

zilch, you said,

The track record of religion in explaining the natural world, and in revising its explanations in the face of new data, is miserable, to say the least.

Let's not lose sight of the question, which is whether mind is entirely part of the natural world. If it is, then science's track record predicts that we will increasingly understand how mind is in the natural world and that we could conceivably have a nearly complete theory. But the dualist says there are sound reasons to believe that explaining mind is not just a matter of explaining the natural world.

Science's track record in explaining free will, rationality, consciousness, identity, and the like has been miserable, to say the least. Depending on where you demarcate science, in fact, science really cannot even approach the problem. The real work in the mind-brain problem remains in the realm of philosophy and theology. Science provides very useful data, but qua science, cannot do more than show what is going on physically.

I'm not at all sure what you mean by religion's track record in explaining the natural world being miserable. Religion per se is not about explaining the natural world, or at least not explaining regularities. That's not its purview, not its job. Religious believers acting as scientists have contributed greatly to understanding the natural world.

So both religion and science have their purpose and their limits. Philosophy ought also to be brought into the discussion: if the mind-brain problem is solved, it will be by the three disciplines working together.

I acknowledge you did not claim that science would someday reach certainty about everything. That may have been a careless overreaching on my part. Reviewing the discussion here, though, I see a very strong faith in science someday, and it still seems to run quite parallel to the alleged "Dualism of the Gaps."

zilch said...

tom, you say:

Let's not lose sight of the question, which is whether mind is entirely part of the natural world. If it is, then science's track record predicts that we will increasingly understand how mind is in the natural world and that we could conceivably have a nearly complete theory.

That's my opinion, yes.

But the dualist says there are sound reasons to believe that explaining mind is not just a matter of explaining the natural world.

That's pretty close to a definition of "dualism", isn't it? But so far, I've seen no sound reasons for dualism; just appeals to magic, which simply wave away the real problems of explanation, have no independent empirical evidence, and create a host of new problems. For instance: I fail to see why physicists should have to accept an entirely novel and unobservable class of interactions, between the physical and the metaphysical, just on the basis of a couple of syllogisms, which are based on definitions uninformed by science, especially evolution.

Science's track record in explaining free will, rationality, consciousness, identity, and the like has been miserable, to say the least.

True enough, so far; but not surprising, given the intractable and complex nature of the subject matter- and has anyone else done better?

Depending on where you demarcate science, in fact, science really cannot even approach the problem. The real work in the mind-brain problem remains in the realm of philosophy and theology.

Why cannot science approach the problem? Of course much work has been done on the problem by philosophy and theology- but is their work adding to our knowledge of reality, or are they simply spinning wheels of their own creation, and setting words to chase the tails of other words? You will have to excuse my skepticism here, but in my humble opinion, a great deal of philosophy and theology is decoupled from reality, and thus free to evolve into ever more fantastic tapestries which might well be internally coherent, and beautiful; but don't really explain anything.

Science provides very useful data, but qua science, cannot do more than show what is going on physically.

What's going on physically is the whole show. At least I see no need to postulate magic to explain anything.

I'm not at all sure what you mean by religion's track record in explaining the natural world being miserable. Religion per se is not about explaining the natural world, or at least not explaining regularities. That's not its purview, not its job. Religious believers acting as scientists have contributed greatly to understanding the natural world.

True enough. I am guilty here of lumping mind-brain dualists of all stripes with theists. Although there is a lot of overlap.

So both religion and science have their purpose and their limits. Philosophy ought also to be brought into the discussion: if the mind-brain problem is solved, it will be by the three disciplines working together.

Hmmm. Since philosophy, done correctly, is science, and religion a myth, I would say that it's only necessary to call upon one discipline here.

Rino said...

Hi Zilch,

Thanks for your comments. I'm still unsure about this one issue:

You say: "teleology is not a given primordial quality of the Universe".

From this I assume you mean that at the level of microphysics, particles, quarks, strings, whatever, there is no teleology. This is fine. But then, many would argue that microphysical is necessary and sufficient in giving causal explanations for the causal powers of an organism. To deny this seems to be to deny closure of the microphysical. Causal Exclusion says that once the microphysical is necessary and sufficient, any other cause is excluded, so it is epiphenomenal. So, if there is no teleology on the microphysical level, but all of the causal work is done on the microphysical level, where is the room for teleology to play a causal role? You seem to say that 'natural selection' played a role. But, presumably there was never anything guiding or interrupting the microphysical processes throughout the eons, so where does teleology get in? At best, we say that physics created some systems that survived, but then, if randomness created the supposed order to the systems, then they are still random. There was no more purpose behind it then the millions of systems that died. It is just lucky that one organism lived. Well, no, it is not lucky, since this implies that there is a goal of survival that this organism accomplished. But there is no goal of survival. There is just particles bouncing, or not bouncing. I don't see how to get around this argument. Which premise do you deny?

a) all causation happens at the microphysical level
b) there is no teleology at the microphysical level
---
c)teleology has no causal role in the universe

Victor Reppert said...

A quick note of clarification. I had entered this discussion because it looked to me as if John Loftus was thinking that Parsons' e-mail to Beversluis constituted an adequate refutation of the argument from reason. Parsons has e-mailed me to tell me what I suspected all along, that he does not consider it a refutation, and I don't think Beversluis does either. It was not my original intent to debate the substantive issues of the AFR, which I do on a regular basis on DI and especially on DI2, but rather to clarify the argument's structure. But some people thought I was making a full defense of the argument and started attacking it, and I defended it, and here we are with a 45 comment exchange.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, that's one of the reasons I didn't participate much here. As I said, there was much more to Beversluis' argument than what I could relate in a few sentences. I just thought Parsons comment was insightful, that's all.

zilch said...

rino- I thank you as well, along with everyone else participating here. This discussion is giving my noodle a good workout, and anyone who does that for me deserves my thanks.

That said- I must make a confession. I am not really au courant with philosophical terminology, and what I know about Jaegwon Kim's exclusion argument is pretty superficial, so far. I will do some more reading; but for now, I will give you my naÏve interpretation.

Your central question seems to be:

So, if there is no teleology on the microphysical level, but all of the causal work is done on the microphysical level, where is the room for teleology to play a causal role?

You seem to be treating teleology as a primitive property that a substance either has or doesn't have. To me, teleology (in the sense of goal-oriented behavior) is a way of describing systems that embody certain kinds of order that lead to certain kinds of behavior. To me, your question seem the equivalent of:

"So, if there are no television shows on the microphysical level, but all of the causal work is done on the microphysical level, where is the room for television shows to play a causal role?"

Television shows can certainly be considered to play a causal role in our lives, can they not? For instance, in causing people to believe that there are only two kinds of people in the world, good and bad, and that good people eventually win. But at the microphysical level, there are no television shows.

But what does this mean? Simply this: that television shows, like teleology, are not a quality of substances, but a kind of organized system. And systems of this complexity are only likely to be the result of some kind of evolution, which brings us to the next point.

At best, we say that physics created some systems that survived, but then, if randomness created the supposed order to the systems, then they are still random.

If I wander along a beach, and pick up all the stones between one and two inches long, is my set of selected stones random? No. If I programmed a computer to produce random numbers, and selected from those random numbers those that were multiples of ten, is my set of selected numbers still random? No.

Natural selection works in an analogous (but of course much more complex) way, selecting structures that work in achieving non-random goals: the ability to reproduce, to see, to move... Of course, we must be careful not to personalize natural selection: natural selection is not a being with preconceived ideas about what to choose, but simply the description of what works to get your information (nowadays, in the form of genes) reproduced.

In this way, order is winnowed out of disorder. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is not violated, because the energy necessary to increase the order is extracted from the environment by the structures that evolve: that's why we need to breathe and eat, so that by decreasing the order (in the sense of increasing the entropy) of what we consume, we may thereby maintain and increase our own order.

Of course, this is oversimplified, but the point stands: teleology, or purpose, like metabolism, and television shows for that matter, is an evolved system, not a primitive quality that substances either have or don't have from the get-go.

rino, you ask:

Which premise do you deny?

a) all causation happens at the microphysical level
b) there is no teleology at the microphysical level
---
c)teleology has no causal role in the universe


I guess it depends on exactly what you mean by "causation". Since the causation of teleology is theoretically reducible to purely physical causes (is gravity "microphysical"?), then one could say that teleology has no causal role in the universe, since it consists of nothing other than the myriad physical interactions of particles and energy.

On the other hand, since teleological systems have a high evolved degree of order, describing their teleological behavior in terms of single particle interactions is intractable. Theoretically, one could describe a traffic jam in terms of the movement of single atoms. But that would not only be rather unwieldly; it would also not contribute to an understanding of why traffic jams happen at certain times. It's the higher-level pattern that is important, and the appropriate level to describe and study, when talking about traffic jams or teleology.

Thus, to segue from microphysical causation to teleological causation is to jump many levels of complexity, which are theoretically connected, but intractable to describe completely. That is why complex evolved phenomena (life, traffic jams, politics, religions...) are sometimes called emergent phenomena, that is, possessed of qualities which seem to emerge from a much simpler substrate. It is thus tempting to ascribe such phenomena to magic, because complete explanations are very difficult or impossible; but as I have said, the invocation of magic, while fun and easy, doesn't add anything to our understanding.

cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

Rino said...

Hi Zilch,

Thanks for your comments again. I was only pressing you on this because not long ago I was in a discussion with someone in which I was arguing for the position you are arguing for now. So, I wanted to see how you would reply. I am actually quite thankful to Darwin for reintroducing teleology in nature. Although he changed the tradition goal of striving for the 'good' to now striving for 'survival', at least he has popularized the idea of striving in nature again. Of course, I still agree with the ancient Greeks that it is more accurate to say that organisms strive for the good rather than survival (ie, one can kill oneself because one thinks it is better to die, but one can never do something that they don't think is for the best).

One point about your example: You seem to be tacitly reifying natural selection in your example, even though you are careful to say you don't want to do that. For example, of course, if you or a computer program pick every other stone, that is purposive, since both you and the computer have purposes. But if the wind blustered by and accidentally blew every other stone into the sea, would we say there is purpose there? It seems that this random windblown picture is more in accordance with what physicalists want to accept (though for the life of me, I can't figure out why there is so much reluctance to accept purposes in nature)

Regards.

zilch said...

Hi rino. Thanks for stirring me to do some more reading of philosophy- the better to defenestrate it :lol:

You say:

I am actually quite thankful to Darwin for reintroducing teleology in nature. Although he changed the tradition goal of striving for the 'good' to now striving for 'survival', at least he has popularized the idea of striving in nature again.

I would save the word "striving" for conscious agents like ourselves, and my guinea pigs each morning as they strive to reach the apple cores I hold just above their twitching little noses. Does a crystal "strive" to grow? We have to keep in mind that all such terms: striving, goodness, teleology, are descriptions of evolved behaviors or concepts. I suppose you could say that particles with mass "strive" toward one another because of gravity; but analogously to what I said in my comment above about teleology, there are several levels of complexity in between such "striving" and that of my guinea pigs (who do eventually get the apple, of course- I'm not cruel).

I would say a similar thing about the difference between "survival" and "good". "Good" is "survival" writ large, in a sense: it is our description of what organisms "strive" for. For an amoeba, "good" doesn't go beyond "survival", including reproduction. For social animals, "good" includes survival and reproduction, but also includes the survival and reproduction of others. For humans, "good" can include the survival of the whole biosphere, worshipping the correct God, and buying rap CD's.

But all these "goods" evolved from survival. Of course, the ideas of "good" we now hold, having been largely displaced from the genes into the ideosphere, can work against the old "good" of survival: one can decide to have no children, or indeed to kill oneself. But the old survival tools of striving to avoid pain, hunger, and thirst, and seeking sex and companionship, are still powerful forces in us humans. Attempts to balance these forces against the needs of society, one way or another, form the basis for all morality, religious or otherwise.

One point about your example: You seem to be tacitly reifying natural selection in your example, even though you are careful to say you don't want to do that. For example, of course, if you or a computer program pick every other stone, that is purposive, since both you and the computer have purposes. But if the wind blustered by and accidentally blew every other stone into the sea, would we say there is purpose there? It seems that this random windblown picture is more in accordance with what physicalists want to accept (though for the life of me, I can't figure out why there is so much reluctance to accept purposes in nature)

While the wind alone is capable of generating a modest amount of order- an amazing example is the barchan- to achieve the kind of order that can be reasonably described as "purposeful" requires a sorting principle, such as an engineer- or natural selection. Again, "purpose" is not an independent entity, but just a description of a kind of behavior, or concept, that evolved because it conferred fitness. Of course there are purposes in nature: we are in nature, and we have purposes. But nature as a whole has no purpose. There's no point in trying to define "exactly" what has purposes and what doesn't, any more than you can say "exactly" when our ancestors became "human".

cheers from icy Vienna, zilch

Shygetz said...

I would like to commend zilch's portrayal of evolution. I would also like to point out that the conflict between psychological/sociological urges and biological urges is not unprecedented. Biology is rife with competing urges; one major example is sex selection (the most popular example being the peacocks' tails) and predatory selection (big tails make for slow movers and poor hiders). So the fact that sociological/psychological factors often make individuals take actions that are contrary to their own biological urges is not unexpected by evolution, once we factor in the contribution of social and psychological factors to the overall survival rate of individuals in the species.

It must always be remembered that evolution does not strive for perfection; it takes the easiest path to good enough. Also, evolution does not do its heavy lifting on easily-imagined timescales. If you are willing to anthropomorphize a bit, you can look at consciousness as one of Nature's experiments still awaiting an outcome. Too much success has often bred colossal failure in nature (e.g. overpredation by too-successful predators leading to overpopulation, famine, disease, and overcompetition for mates), and it remains to be seen if consciousness can survive in the geological long-term, or if it will be a failed experiment that will have to be repeated under different conditions in the future.

vr: Doesn't everyone's thought of an apple have to have something physical in common if it is a physical state...Causal role is determined by physical structure. If there is nothing about the property "being a thought about a pencil" that is identical to some particular physical state-type, then the mental state-type cannot be causally relevant.

You seem to think that "pencil" exists as some existential ideal to which I apply a given object, and then categorize it as such. That is not true. Just as if you can I look at the same pencil, we will have two different experiences of that pencil. Similarly, when we learned of the social convention of grouping objects with certain properties as "pencil", we have two different experiences of "pencil". In fact, there are almost certainly possible objects that you would call "pencil" and I would not. So, while I would agree that there must be similarities in mental structure (namely, connections between the experience of the physical object pencil and the category "pencil"), there is no reason to think that the physical structures themselves would be identical; indeed, there is very good reason to insist they would not be. You can take the computer for example, again. I can program databases in many different ways that would all categorize pencils as "pencil". Each would be quite different in physical structure based on the input, but the output would be similar. While there would be similarities in physical structure that could be drawn (bits corresponding to pencils would be linked to bits corresponding to "pencil"), the actual physical structures themselves would be quite different.

Identity claims are necessary truths. In order for physical states to determine intentional states uniquely, it must be logically contradictory to deny the mental state once the physical information is given.

Fair enough.

The only way to get an argument that has a conclusion "X is about B" is to have intentional states in the premises...It doesn't matter how much physical information you give, it will always be logically possible for me to deny the existence of the mental state without logical contradiction.

You spotted me any amount of physical knowledge I wish (which was quite generous of you), so I'll take it. Here is how I would demonstrate physicality of mental states within category X.

Here is the argument:

A.) When subjects 1-1,000,000 have mental state within category X, physical phenomena within category Q are observed.
B.) When subjects 1-1,000,000 do not have mental state within category X, physical phenomena within category Q are not observed.
C.) When physical phenomena within category Q are externally induced on subjects 1-1,000,000, mental states within category X are immediately induced.
D.) When subjects 1-1,000,000 have mental states within cateogory X and physical phenomena within category Q, and the physical state is induced to leave category Q, mental states within catoegory X immediately cease.
E.) Therefore, physical states in category Q are necessary and sufficient to induce mental states within category X.

Now you've lost me. Are you stating that physicalism is an epistemological problem (i.e. we can never KNOW that P-state Q entails M-state X, so physicalism fails)? If so, that is a general problem that is true of all systems (e.g. we can never KNOW that P-state Q and D-state B entails M-state X), and we can approach it as we have all other systems; empirically, basing inferences on data and holding conclusions tentatively until disproven by the weight of the evidence. This is no issue except for the perverse, and if you wish to claim that the problem of knowledge is a good reason to reject physicalism, please tell me how you countenance strapping yourself into a metal box filled with toxic, flammable, and explosive chemicals and hurtling yourself at speeds sufficient to kill you and those around you every day without KNOWING that the thing won't spontaneously explode.

Or, are you saying that in order to determine that P-state X entails M-state B, we have to form an M-state of our own, thus forming an infinite regression? If this is your objection, I don't see the problem. First of all, this would be true of dualism as well. To determine that P-state plus D-state (for dualistic state) entails M-state, we must form a P-state plus D-state of our own. Same problem, no matter how many states of being you postulate. Second of all, so what? Yes, in order to think about thought I must think. Who cares?

The irreducibility of intentional states to physical states is held by many philosophers, many of whom, like Donald Davidson, are philosophical naturalists.

Argument from authority/popularity. I don't care.

There is also the argument that intentional-state attributions involve normative elements, and therefore, cannot follow necessarily from the existence of physical states.

You'll have to explain this argument in more detail for me to respond. What "normative" elements?

Computers have no first-person perspective. Therefore, they do not literally add 2 + 2. They do not perceive the relationship amongst the meanings.

First of all, you cannot know that computers have no first-person perspective, unless you have embraced physicalism AND are able to perfectly correlate quantum states to mental ones.

Second, you assume that a computer must have an "I" to perceive relationships. This is untrue. Address my point on machine learning.

We perceive those relationships. However, physical facts are not perspectival. If my perspective determines how atoms go in my brain, we have a non-publicly accessible fact that determines physical states. That's not considered good naturalism.

And you are implicitly begging the question by implying that perspective is not physical in nature. Set up two cameras at different angles and have them record the same event, then explain the dualism that went into each camera's "perspective" on its recorded media.

It's like taking a bunch of indicative facts about the world and concluding the existence of an objectively binding moral obligation.

It depends on what you mean by "objectively binding". Say I took the fact that every human being in the world felt they had a moral obligation to do X. Is that objective? If so, then such conclusions are valid, as it would be an objective fact that all humans share a binding moral obligation. If not, then what exactly does objectivity mean to you?

You have to go from facts are not subjective or perspectival, not normative, not intentional, and not purposive, and yet these facts have to entail truths that are subjective/perspectival, normative, intentional and purposive.

The difference between objective and subjective is only a problem of technology for physicalism (albeit probably an insurmountable one), and not a real distinction. Physicalism has inherent in it the possibility for a physically omniscient being to read a person's mind exactly by reading their brain, thus eliminating the subjective by allowing multiple observations of a brain-state. By assuming that subjectivity is an inherent property of a phenomenon, you beg the question. Perspective, intention, purpose, and yes, norms, are just subsets of subjective phenomena, and by assuming them as fundamental properties of phenomena you again beg the question.

I just noticed that zilch did all this better than I did, but I'm not about to waste all this typing.

Shygetz said...

Just another comment to address the oft-repeated "Science of the Gaps" assertion.

A.) Science is the only proven way we have of studying the universe. Therefore, one can justifiably infer that, if we ever gain an answer, it will be through science.

B.) I don't think anyone here claims to have proven physicalism. We claim to assume physicalism because it is the simplest explanation that is consistent with all available data. I, for one, will require significantly more before I am willing to say that (to paraphrase Gould) it is perverse to reject physicalism.

Teleology exists in the universe because A) it is possible for it to exist, and B) it is more successful at reproducing its pattern once it exists. I need postulate nothing else to arrive at teleology in the universe.

Saying that since atoms do not have teleology, people cannot have teleology is careless reductionism. Neither sodium nor chlorine forms a white crystal at 27C, but together they have the property of forming a white crystal at 27C. Neither a rope nor a pulley is capable of amplifying force, but a block and tackle is. Scientists have known about emergent properties for a long time now.

rino, a physicalist would necessarily reify all mental propositions, including the category of phenomena we call "natural selection". However, the reification would not be as a Platonic ideal, but rather a category of mental states (which would, itself, be reified as another category of mental states, and so on, and so on, until someone stopped thinking about it and making categories in their brain :-)

Shygetz said...

tom said: The real work in the mind-brain problem remains in the realm of philosophy and theology.

And what firmly demonstrated insights, pray tell, have philosophy and theology brought us on the mind-brain problem? All I've seen is argument, but no conclusions--scientists have done all of the heavy lifting by experimentation, as we've always done. The best philosophers have spent their time (quite usefully) trying to stretch the scientific data as far as they can by deduction and justified inference.

I could not even begin to develop a standard by which to determine which theologians are the "best". Perhaps the ones most willing to flat-out reject those theologies that conflict with evidence? In which case, the best theologians have been furiously back-peddling from their positions regarding the supremacy of conscious free will in deciding the actions of man--finding out that you move your arm before you decide to move your arm will do that to a theology.

Victor, I'd like to thank you for the discussion. I've enjoyed it thus far.

Rino said...

Hi Zilch,

There is a lot of interesting stuff to comment on. One thing though, and this is just a philosophical point. When I say that organisms strive for the good, I mean basically that they strive for completion, for perfection, for attaining what their native trajectory is pushing them to attain. (This is Ancient Greek thought, so I don't expect you to accept it, but it is a different way of looking at nature). So, I am basically saying that while Darwin was good to re-introduce teleology into nature, he fails as a psychologist. It is not just survival that organisms strive for, it is much more. If you had an empty existence of only being alive - no love, no friends, no accomplishments, etc - would you be satisfied? No. That is because we long to be alive, but we long for more than that as well. For me, these deeper desires are not grafted on while survival is the lone true purpose. Rather, these additional desires are part of our native trajectory. This is where Darwin is too narrow. Of course, I know that I am giving Darwin a lot less respect than you do when I suggest that it is fair to compare his theory with the theory prevalent from the 6th Century BC to the 15th Century. Forgive me. I do appreciate Darwin, since he adds more to nature than what existed from the 16th-19th century, ie, billiard balls bouncing.

Hi Shygetz,

May I use a quote from you to give an example of what I am trying to say to Zilch?

You say: "It must always be remembered that evolution does not strive for perfection; it takes the easiest path to good enough."

Using this model, some have pointed out that the brain is not well enough constructed to attain truth. Ie, if it can overcome the randomness of microphysics, then the brain is made to survive not to ponder truths. If it is retorted that truth helps the brain survive, so the brain is geared for truth, then we conclude, using your point, that the brain only cared to get enough truth to help it survive, so it cut corners. Thus, our brain is not reliable in attaining to truths. My point is that this is not human experience as I know it. I only rarely use my brain to try to survive, and when I am trying to think about truths, that is when I feel like I am fully living out my nature. I don't feel like it is a distraction from my true nature, nor do I feel like pondering truths is a convenient side-show that I luckily get from a brain basically geared for survival. But then, I can only speak for myself on this matter, and adapt my worldview accordingly. I don't pretend to be able to say this is the case for all humans, I just don't know. But it certainly is the case for me, and the science textbooks telling me otherwise is not very persuasive when confronted with my regular daily human experience.

Cheers

zilch said...

shygetz, thanks for your commendation. I would not agree that I did anything better than you- your rigorous portrayal sets a high standard.

I'll also second your thanks to Victor for this discussion. I'm having a great workout here.

Hi rino- you say:

When I say that organisms strive for the good, I mean basically that they strive for completion, for perfection, for attaining what their native trajectory is pushing them to attain. (This is Ancient Greek thought, so I don't expect you to accept it, but it is a different way of looking at nature).

Well, I can't tell you whether I accept it or not, because I don't know what you mean by "completion" and "perfection" in this context. My first inclination is to not accept "perfection", because it reeks of Platonic ideals, which might be striven after by lovers of mathematics but are unlikely to play much of a role in the lives of, say, perch. You might say a female perch strives after the "completion" of laying her eggs, and a male perch strives after the "completion" of fertilizing those eggs, I guess. But I suspect this is not what the Greeks meant by it.

So, I am basically saying that while Darwin was good to re-introduce teleology into nature, he fails as a psychologist. It is not just survival that organisms strive for, it is much more.

I wouldn't dismiss Darwin as a psychologist so glibly. Have you read The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals? Darwin made the first in-depth comparative study of the sounds, gestures, facial expressions, etc., of humans and other animals. Much of it is dated, and it doesn't go into neuroses or dreams, but it has held up a damn sight better (dare I say this?) than most of what Freud and Jung had to say. But that's beside the point.

It is not just survival that organisms strive for, it is much more. If you had an empty existence of only being alive - no love, no friends, no accomplishments, etc - would you be satisfied? No. That is because we long to be alive, but we long for more than that as well. For me, these deeper desires are not grafted on while survival is the lone true purpose.

Of course I agree with this, and I'm sure Darwin would have too. However, I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "grafted on". The purposes we have above and beyond putting our genes into the next generation are indeed "grafted on" in the sense that they are later arrivals: you don't see amoebas waltzing, or guinea pigs admiring Escher. As far as what constitutes our "true" purpose, I would say that we are in the enviable, or perhaps not so enviable, position, of having to decide that for ourselves.

Rino, you quote shygetz:

"It must always be remembered that evolution does not strive for perfection; it takes the easiest path to good enough."

And then say:

Using this model, some have pointed out that the brain is not well enough constructed to attain truth. Ie, if it can overcome the randomness of microphysics, then the brain is made to survive not to ponder truths. If it is retorted that truth helps the brain survive, so the brain is geared for truth, then we conclude, using your point, that the brain only cared to get enough truth to help it survive, so it cut corners.

Depends on what you mean by "truth". Obviously, it is a great aid to survival and passing on one's genes to have an accurate model of the world one lives in, including potential sources of food, danger, and mates. It is a matter of debate how much our human love for such things as music, dance, patterns of all kinds, and even religion, is inborn and possibly fitness-conferring, and how much reflects the exaptation (the co-option of a feature for a new use) of talents evolved for other purposes- say tracking game.

Whatever the case, the evolution of human culture has opened the floodgates to all kinds of novel "goods", up to and including debating the nature of goodness on the internet.

Thus, our brain is not reliable in attaining to truths. My point is that this is not human experience as I know it. I only rarely use my brain to try to survive, and when I am trying to think about truths, that is when I feel like I am fully living out my nature.

"Reliable" is relative. Your brain, and the brains of your parents, their parents, and so forth back as far as you care to go, produced truths reliably enough to sustain an unbroken line of ancestors through millions of years: no mean feat. And the lives of many of us nowadays are pretty cushy- we don't have to spend as much time dodging saber-tooth cats as our ancestors, so we can devote more time to the curious inspection of our strange new world of stuff we've offloaded from our brains: numbers, pictures, stories, graphs, internet discussions... and take time to enjoy it.

Not so long ago- say about ten thousand years- your ancestors might have felt a similar kind of satisfaction when they had explored their surroundings, found a good shelter, and organized a cohesive tribe with no dangerous enemies and enough food. This requires a great deal of reliability from the brain: not in generating absolute truths, but in perceiving useful truths about medium-sized objects moving at medium speeds.

I am grateful that we have the capacity to enjoy the weirdness of modern science, and art, and can extend our feelings of love far beyond our kith and kin. But however wonderful the many things we strive for, I see them as a natural broadening and elaboration, partially by way of reason and partially simply evolved, of our primordial desire to pass on our genes, a desire that evolved because it works.

cheers and goodnight from Vienna, zilch

Shygetz said...

...the brain only cared to get enough truth to help it survive, so it cut corners. Thus, our brain is not reliable in attaining to truths. My point is that this is not human experience as I know it. I only rarely use my brain to try to survive, and when I am trying to think about truths, that is when I feel like I am fully living out my nature.

You use your brain to try to build accurate models of the world because evolution has thus far shown that accurate models of the world help you and your kin thrive. We know the brain uses inaccurate shortcuts; this is not a matter of conjecture, but an exceedingly well established fact of psychology and neurobiology.

We know that motivations can occur from biological bases; you (and your dog) have an inherent motivation to drink, eat, secrete waste, breathe, etc. So, it is easily conceivable that a motivation to build more accurate models of the world could evolve IF it gave a selective advantage.

Guess what? People that built more accurate models of their world beyond day-to-day survival were able to discover technology that increased their survival rate at the expense of those people who did not. So, you have a drive to "think about truths", or to build accurate models of the world, because it is how you survive. That is the one thing humans do better than any other species; build models of the world.

...nor do I feel like pondering truths is a convenient side-show that I luckily get from a brain basically geared for survival.

There are two possible arguments I see that you could be making here. First, you could simply be stating that since you don't feel this is true, it must not be. From my limited interaction with you, I don't think you are so naive to think this is even close to a valid argument, so I won't insult you by attributing it to you.

So, I think you are saying that it should be an evolutionary consequence that, if you are adapted to building accurate models of the world, you should intuitively be able to accurately determine your own motivation in the matter, as it is a feature of the world.

In order for evolution to work, there must be a selective advantage. It is abundantly clear to me what the selective advantage is to the ability to make inferential models of future events based on past experiences...being able to predict the future with accuracy above random chance is a huge selective advantage in almost every situation. It is also clear to me that the selective advantage could be acheived gradually (another requirement for evolution); a model that is even a little better than the previous one will still provide a selective advantage.

It is not clear to me at all what the selective advantage is to knowing the evolutionary history of the desire to know is. It simply does not seem to confer an advantage, and certainly not one commesurate with its cost.

Let me put it this way; for millenia, humans worked off of what I will call the implicit Newtonian model of the world. The world was mechanistic, and things like gravity, momentum, time, etc. were real and constant. We now know that this model is false; our current model is quantum/relativistic, and much better. But, the computational cost of the quantum/relativistic model is HUGE compared to the Newtonian model. While it may have been possible to evolve an organism that intuitively understood the probabilistic nature of the universe, or that gravity bent space-time, such understanding would not confer a selective advantage to people that made up for the added cost of maintaining a brain capable of instinctively making quantum calculations. Similarly, while it may be possible to evolve a brain that instinctively understands the nature of motivation, there is no selective advantage sufficient to overcome the cost (not to mention the possible lack of a gradual path to get to such understanding).

When I say that organisms strive for the good, I mean basically that they strive for completion, for perfection, for attaining what their native trajectory is pushing them to attain.

You are saying that organisms strive to attain what they strive to attain. This sentence contains no information.

If you had an empty existence of only being alive - no love, no friends, no accomplishments, etc - would you be satisfied? No.

That is because love, friends, and accomplishments greatly increase our survival and reproductive success, so they are valued instinctively.

You have also completely left out the independent reproductive nature of ideas, present in all communicating social orders. You must remember that ideas, like all things that change subtly over time and replicate themselves, will automatically be selected for those that replicate and spread better. It is a fundamental fact of mathematics (or, if you prefer, statistics) that Darwin brilliantly applied to living organisms, but it applies to everything, from ideas to mineral crystals.

Shygetz said...

Just to add an example on to a point I previously made...

That is because love, friends, and accomplishments greatly increase our survival and reproductive success, so they are valued instinctively.

For example, many microbes instictively value friends. It's called quorum sensing. For example, P. aeruginosa is found everywhere, and normally your immune system keeps it down to levels low enough that it cannot find its friends. But, if and when P. aeruginosa finds its friends, it will continue its life cycle into the disease state. It "values" its friends and has evolved specific ways to determine when they are around, and to change its lifestyle accordingly in order to improve its success. Does the fact that your brain puts a "desire" model on your analogous instinctive activity make it fundamentally different?

Sorry for the comment spam.

Paul said...

Hello. I just thought you might like to read this article:
"A Christian Answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma" (link).