Thursday, February 16, 2017

The external world and the burden of proof

If both a proposition and its denial cannot be proved, what rules do we use to decide what to believe? If I say "Can you prove that the external world exists" and you can't prove it, should we then not believe that there is an external world?

324 comments:

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Reconquista Initiative said...

Hey Hal,

Last time, then I have to stop (although knowing me, I likely won’t…LOL!).

So, let me approach this whole issue about immaterialism in two ways to get my point across about it.

First, through the Cogito (which, remember, is not about seeking what is true but only what cannot be doubted).

Now, what the Cogito shows is that when we start to doubt, we can doubt everything—the existence of matter, etc.—except for the belief that “thought” exists and that there is some kind of “thing” that recognizes this “thought” and engages in it. In a way, the best way to understand this entity is the same way as Aristotle described God: namely, as “thought thinking itself” or just as “thought-thinking”. This is the only thing that we cannot doubt: that there is thought and that there is a thing that recognizes this thought and thinks it. Once Descartes came to this bedrock belief that he could not doubt, he then had to build materialism back into the picture because the existence of matter was obviously something that he could doubt, and thus its existence was not indubitable. So while belief in the existence of bodies, matter, etc. is not indubitable, belief in ‘thought-thinking’ is.

Now, the immaterialist stops right here. He claims nothing more than that we are ‘thoughts-thinking’ (ie – minds), which the Cogito shows that we cannot doubt. Indeed, his claim is that he need not posit anything more than the existence of ‘thoughts-thinking’ to account for reality (although one of those ‘thoughts-thinking’ is unique, given that it is God). So the immaterialist posits nothing more than what he already cannot doubt.

By contrast, the materialist and/or dualist then add to the indubitable view that we are ‘thoughts-thinking’ by calling that there is also a material component to us and reality. And indeed, as mentioned, this is why Descartes had to add materialism back into his system after the cogito, because he knew that belief in the existence of matter and bodies was not an indubitable belief.

So this is why I say that the burden is on the materialist and that immaterialism is the “default” view, because if the materialist and/or dualist truly engages in a rigorous form of doubting those beliefs of his which are not indubitable, then he will come to the same bedrock belief as that which the immaterialist holds, which is the indubitable belief that there are ‘thoughts’ and there is a ‘thought-thinking’. So it is the materialist and/or dualist who adds beliefs to the minimal view that the immaterialist holds, that is why the burden is on the materialist and/or dualist and that is why immaterialism is the default view.

(Con’t – 1 of 2)

Reconquista Initiative said...

(Con’t – 2 of 2)

Now, the second way to understand my points about immaterialism is through ‘inference to the best explanation’ reasoning. So forget the issue of what is the default view, who has the burden of proof, etc. Instead, let us just compare worldviews to see which one best fulfills the explanatory virtues that we all use when comparing different explanations/hypotheses.

And when we do this, this is when immaterialism—which essentially only posits the existence of ‘thoughts-thinking’ (ie – minds and their ideas)—shows itself to be superior to all other views. It is the best explanation of reality. First, it is the same or better in its explanatory power and scope than other views. Second, it is more in line with our indubitable background beliefs (as the Cogito issue above shows). And finally, it is drastically more simple than other views. And your own words show this to be the case. Why? Because whereas the immaterialist posits only the existence of minds, you claim that your view is much like the following:

“Human beings are animals with a distinctive range of abilites. Though they have a mind, they are not identical with the mind they have. Though they have a body, they are not identical with the body they have. Nor is a human being a conjuction of a mind and a body that causally interact with each other. Like other animals, human beings have a brain on the normal functioning of which their powers depend. But a human person is not a brain enclosed in a skull. A mature human being is a self-conscious agent, with the ability to act, and to react in thought, feeling and deed, for reasons.”

So your view posits not only a mind, but a material body, and a brain on which the human is directly dependent, and so on. Thus, you posit much more than the immaterialist does. Thus, the burden is on you to either show that these material things actually exist as material things or that material things must be posited to exist to account for our experience. But since there is no non-question-begging evidence for the existence of matter, and since, as the immaterialist shows, the actual existence of matter need not be posited to account for our experiences, then it is questionable whether the materialist and/or dualist can ever adequately meet his burden of proof of showing these things to be the case.

And that, in the end, is why I think the most rational position to hold is an immaterialist one, for it is the best all-around explanation of reality given the principles that we routinely use to judge differing explanations/hypotheses.

And while anyone is free to disagree with me (and obviously, most people do!), I find that people’s disagreement to this idea usually comes at the cost of sacrificing the consistency of their intellectual principles, such as dropping the criterion of simplicity in an ad-hoc manner simply because it points towards immaterialism or suddenly trying to shift the burden of proof onto the immaterialist.

Take care as well!

Damian Michael

Reconquista Initiative said...

I used to think Johnson's response was too simplistic.

It is. And question-begging too!

However, the more I think of it the more I appreciate it's subtlety.

Kicking a stone is, I would argue, the opposite of subtlety…;).

Even if matter does not exist, we are still going to have pain from kicking the stone.

Which the immaterialist does not deny. And yet, ironically, it is arguably the materialist who cannot explain the subjective feeling of pain. So pain seems to be more of a problem for materialism than immaterialism.

We simply can't help but act as if the things we encounter in daily life are material substances.

Incorrect. We simply can’t help but act as if things we encounter in daily life are things that we will causally interact with. However, we can easily act as if those things are not made of matter.

From that perspective, Berkely's metaphysical views are sterile, non-productive in helping one to live in the world.

Hmm, this is a matter of perspective. For example, holding to an immaterialist view, and thus realizing that I am, in a very real way, living in the mind of God, has made me much more appreciative of my moment to moment life, it has made me more compassionate and caring for all things, even inanimate ones, and it has made me realize that all my actions, from the smallest to the largest, are moral in nature. So, from my view, immaterialism is the opposite of sterile, but puts a new perspective on life that it fascinating in its beauty and interest. Furthermore, on immaterialism, when I study the world, I am literally studying the mind of God, which, to me, is the most fascinating thing that can be studied.

Cheers.

Stardusty Psyche said...

bmiller said...

From the definition of materialist:
" PHILOSOPHY
a person who supports the theory that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications."
Strawdusty:”The precursor to matter that gave rise to matter is then a part of this description, god for example.”

" I can’t tell what you’re talking about. "
I am not surprised.


"God is part of the description of the definition of “materialist”?"
Yes, of course. God would have to be material. Any other assertion is incoherent.

If there is a god that created the matter in the observable universe then there is a transfer function from godstuff to matter, just like there is a transfer function from energy to matter, m=E/(c^2).

Godstuff is just another material in that case.


" Your response does not make sense, unsurprisingly."
Indeed, I am not surprised you fail to make sense of something so simple.

" I gave you the reasons for my observation that you, as a materialist, were begging the question of “Are all things made of matter?” against immaterialists. Somehow you consider that a lie."
No, I never said that.


" I am now satisfied (again) that you are not capable of rational discourse. Goodbye."
Don't let the door slam your ass on the way out.


February 25, 2017 10:40 AM

Hal said...

Damian,
First, through the Cogito (which, remember, is not about seeking what is true but only what cannot be doubted).

Agreed.

Now, what the Cogito shows is that when we start to doubt, we can doubt everything—the existence of matter, etc.

If we can doubt the existence of matter then we can also doubt the existence of the immaterial. Remember, the concept of immateriality is parasitic upon the concept of the material.

—except for the belief that “thought” exists and that there is some kind of “thing” that recognizes this “thought” and engages in it.

Yes, it establishes that there is no doubt that we have the capacity to think. It does not establish the the entity capable of thinking is itself immaterial. I've repeatedly pointed this out to you.

You can assert that this entity is immaterial. I can assert that this entity is material. Neither one of us is asserting more entities than the other. There is only one entity: the entity capable of thought.

Your claim that immaterialism is the default position because it posits fewew entites is simply false.

Obviously, what I have posted here does not disprove immaterialism. I'm not a materialist but I do find it interesting that we could not even have the concept of the immaterial without the concept of the material. The reverse is not true. As you yourself pointed out, we need to use the word "material" to define the meaning of the word "immaterial".

Take care.

Hal said...

Damian,
Which the immaterialist does not deny. And yet, ironically, it is arguably the materialist who cannot explain the subjective feeling of pain. So pain seems to be more of a problem for materialism than immaterialism.

You do realize that materialism is not the only alternative to immaterialism, don't you? I know quite a few theists that would reject the immaterialism that you are asserting here. They surely do not accept materialism.

Take care.

Stardusty Psyche said...


Blogger Reconquista Initiative said...


" Immaterialist = Mind-only-ist."
What is "mind"? It must be a thing (material) or else it is no thing, literally nothing. Unless you want mind to be an abstraction, but that is irrational because an abstraction is a concept of a mind, which would lead to an infinite regress of minds.

"Mind-only-ist" is an incoherent term.



" Materialist and/or dualist = Mind-plus-matter-ist (or, to phrase it differently: mind-plus-material-brain-ist)."
No, materialist is a "material-only-ist". You don't know that? And you are trying to pass yourself off as knowledgeable on this subject?

You don't even know what "materialist" means. "Mind" is like "running", it is not an existent thing, it is a process of a complicated organization of materials.

" Now, with these new labels in mind, let’s continue and you should hopefully be able to see my other points."
Not bloody likely, since you don't even know what a materialist is, I am not surprised you also do not recognize the incoherence of your own position.

" You have again begged the question. The Cogito ergo sum only establishes the existence of an entity, it does not entail that the entity is an immaterial substance."


" So no one can doubt that he is a mind with thoughts (ie – a thinking thing)."
A thing in this case would have to be a material thing since "thing" in the sense of an abstraction would lead to an infinite regress of minds for each of us.


" So, the ‘Mind-only-ist’ (ie – immaterialist) says that all he needs to account for our experiences is the existence of minds with thoughts, which no one can doubt exist (as noted above). However, it is the ‘Mind-plus-matter-ist’ (ie – materialist and/or dualist) who claims that we need the additional stuff called matter to account for our experiences."
Since you are wrong about your definition of materialist you are wrong about this too.


February 25, 2017 11:30 A

Stardusty Psyche said...

Reconquista Initiative said...

Mind-plus-matter-ist: But I also hold that we are minds-plus-matter; we are both mind and matter. Or, to phrase it a different way, we are minds with thoughts plus brains made of stuff called matter.

Materialist = "material-only-ist", not "mind-plus-matter-ist". You don't understand this most fundamental and elementary concept. No wonder you get nearly everything wrong on this subject.


February 25, 2017 11:30 AM

Stardusty Psyche said...

Reconquista Initiative said...

" My point: Whereas the immaterialist only needs to posit the regularity of one mind—namely, God—the materialist needs to assume the regularity of all the different particles in the universe.

In the simplicity games, the immaterialist wins hands-down."

Expressing your simplistic fantasy is not "winning".


February 25, 2017 11:48 AM

Stardusty Psyche said...

Hal said...

" The sentence:
"Rather that is precisely where are disagreement starts."

should be:
"Rather that is precisely where our disagreement starts.""

I axed you not to speak so carelessly.


February 25, 2017 1:01 PM

Stardusty Psyche said...

Reconquista Initiative said...

" In a way, the best way to understand this entity is the same way as Aristotle described God: namely, as “thought thinking itself” or just as “thought-thinking”. This is the only thing that we cannot doubt: "
I doubt that very much.

I can and do doubt "thought-thinking". I cannot doubt that I have thoughts. I can doubt that those thoughts somehow exist without any physical structure to realize them. In fact, if that were the case, then my thoughts would be nothing.

Immaterialst thoughts, in the sense of "thoughts thinking", are not only doubtable, they are incoherent.


February 25, 2017 3:00 PM

Reconquista Initiative said...

You do realize that materialism is not the only alternative to immaterialism, don't you? I know quite a few theists that would reject the immaterialism that you are asserting here. They surely do not accept materialism.

Hal,

Obviously there are more alternatives than just materialism and immaterialism, as I said myself a number of comments back. After all, I used to hold one of those alternate views (dualism), so I am well aware of it.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Hal said...


" You do realize that materialism is not the only alternative to immaterialism, don't you?"
Like what specifically?


" I know quite a few theists that would reject the immaterialism that you are asserting here. They surely do not accept materialism."
Then I think they have not reasonably thought their position through.

Are you referring to substance dualism? If so, that is just another sort of materialism.

"Material" does not mean ordinary matter only, even though the etymology of the word might suggest that.

Modern synonyms for material include substance, stuff, and medium. So, a substance dualist is just a person who is asserting an as yet undefined sort of material to account for thinking.

Or did you have some other theistic assertion in mind?


February 25, 2017 4:16 PM

Reconquista Initiative said...

Hello Hal,

Remember, the concept of immateriality is parasitic upon the concept of the material.

No, and I forgot to address this previously. While the immaterial can be defined negatively as that which is not material, it can also be defined positively. For example, the immaterial is that which is not extended in space (or not located in any particular place). Indeed, the immaterial is that which is occupies no space or place. So, for example, the law of non-contradiction is immaterial given that it is not located in some specific place nor is it extended in space. God is also immaterial, because he is not extended in space.

If we can doubt the existence of matter then we can also doubt the existence of the immaterial.

No! For two reasons.

First, because once we doubt the existence of the world and matter and space—which is easy to do in the logical sense and which Descartes does during the cogito—then we are left with entities that are not extended in space: immaterial entities! And since we cannot doubt that a thinking entity exists, then that thinking entity is taken as immaterial. Essentially, Descartes established that we cannot doubt that there is a thinking thing, but that we could doubt that there is space or matter, and given that we could not doubt the former but we could doubt the latter, then we must believe that the entity of the cogito is a thinking thing not extended in space…which means that it is an immaterial thing. This is why Descartes was a dualist, because he first had the thinking thing, and then he later added matter to his immaterial thinking thing.

But the second reason this is incorrect is because you are still thinking that the “immaterial” is something additional to “thoughts”, but it is not. Immaterialism is Thoughtism. Or, in other words, the immaterialist posits nothing more than the existence of thoughts and thoughts-thinking (a la Aristotle). Immaterialism is the same as thoughtism. It is not thoughts plus the immaterial, it is just thoughts and thoughts-thinking. And since we cannot doubt the existence of thoughts (thinking), then we cannot doubt the existence of the immaterial. But we can doubt that matter exists. So we can hold that thoughts exists but no matter, but we cannot hold that matter exists and no thoughts.

Here is philosopher Edward Feser making this above point in a semi-related blog post:

…it just isn’t true that Descartes lacks a positive conception of the mental or that he takes the lack of extension and spatial location to be the essence of the mental. Rather, the essence of the mental is thought -- what remains when you’ve doubted away everything else as a dream, a hallucination caused by an evil spirit, etc., but can still know that cogito, ergo sum. To be a mind is just to be a thing that thinks, a res cogitans, and there is nothing more to its essence than that. It is true, of course, that Descartes takes the mind to be unextended and non-spatial, and thus to be immaterial. But that is not because these features are themselves the essence of the mental. Rather, he takes them to follow from the essence of the mental, and in particular from the fact (as he sees it) that thought might still exist even if extension and space were fictions. Of course, we might reasonably go on to ask Descartes what thought is, but the point is that whatever he might say about that, his criterion of what makes something a mind is (i) a positive one, and (ii) not stated in terms of the lack of extension and spatial location.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/brentano-on-mental.html

(Con’t – 1 of 2)

Reconquista Initiative said...

(Con’t – 2 of 2)

You can assert that this entity is immaterial. I can assert that this entity is material. Neither one of us is asserting more entities than the other. There is only one entity: the entity capable of thought.

But who is adding more doubtable assumptions to what the entity is? We cannot doubt that thought exists, and the immaterialist is not moving beyond the entity being just ‘thought-thinking’. He is making no additional doubtable assumptions to what he already knows exists: thoughts. That is all he is positing exists: thoughts and thoughts-thinking. It is the materialist and/or dualist who then adds this thing called matter to the mix.

Furthermore, simplicity is not just about number of entities you assert, but how simple the entities are in themselves. So, the immaterialist posits just a thought-thinking (a mind not composed of parts). But you, for example, from the paragraph example you gave, posit the entity (a human person) as being a mind with a material body that is composed of billions upon billions of material particles, as well as principles that somehow unify the mind to the material body. So it is not just the number of entities that you posit that determines its simplicity, but the type of entity that it is. And so again, the entity posited by immaterialism (a mind not composed of parts (something akin to God’s mind)) is much simpler than a mind-material composite that is composed of many parts.

In fact, the only form of materialism that comes close to matching immaterialism in simplicity is eliminative materialism, precisely because that form of materialism eliminates the mind and thoughts, and beliefs, etc. from the equation. It is just matter, no mind. Mind is an illusion. A fiction. So that view comes close to immaterialism’s simplicity, but since it is also a view that is absurd and arguably self-refuting, then there is not much to commend it.

Your claim that immaterialism is the default position because it posits fewew entites is simply false.

Incorrect. Although I am willing to drop the “default” position thing. Let’s just say that it is the simplest position. And see above for why.

I'm not a materialist but I do find it interesting that we could not even have the concept of the immaterial without the concept of the material. The reverse is not true. As you yourself pointed out, we need to use the word "material" to define the meaning of the word "immaterial".

As shown earlier, this is false. The immaterial can be positively defined without reference to matter. In fact, it is materialism that is arguably parasitic on the immaterial. Indeed, given the very loose and changing definition of what matter and “the physical” is, many philosophical naturalists/materialists have simply started to define matter as “that which is not mental”. Now that is a parasitic definition!

Cheers.

Stardusty Psyche said...


Blogger Reconquista Initiative said...

" For example, the immaterial is that which is not extended in space (or not located in any particular place)."
Then it is literally nothing. You can't fit something in zero volume.

" God is also immaterial, because he is not extended in space."
Then god is literally nothing.


" First, because once we doubt the existence of the world and matter and space"
At that point you have entered a madness of incoherence.


" immaterialist posits nothing more than the existence of thoughts and thoughts-thinking (a la Aristotle)."
I suppose "thoughts-thinking" passes for some sort of deep intellectual notion in certain circles. In truth it is incoherent gibberish.


" To be a mind is just to be a thing that thinks,"
Which is material, unless you mean thing in terms of an abstraction, which is a thought of a mind, leading to an infinite regress of minds.

Since an infinite regress of minds is irrational the undoubtable thinker must be material.


February 25, 2017 7:56 PM

Stardusty Psyche said...

Reconquista Initiative said...

" the immaterialist is not moving beyond the entity being just ‘thought-thinking’."
Indeed, the immaterialist does not move beyond incoherent gibberish.


" Furthermore, simplicity is not just about number of entities you assert, but how simple the entities are in themselves."
My thoughts are highly complex, there is no reason to suppose they arise from something simple.


" eliminative materialism, precisely because that form of materialism eliminates the mind and thoughts,"
Again, you lack even the most fundamental capacity to relate the meaning of "materialist". Obviously, we think, and that collection of thoughts can be loosely approximated as "the mind".

" and beliefs,"
I believe things. This is yet another of your strawman misunderstandings.


"It is just matter"
No, not just matter, just material, learn the basics before you set out to lecture the rest of us.


"Mind is an illusion."
As an existent object separate from a functioning brain, yes, but not an illusory process, rather, a real process.

" A fiction."
No, a real process of the real brain.

" but since it is also a view that is absurd "
Your strawman is absurd, which is the purpose of a strawman, to mischaracterize a thing to absurdity and then knock down that strawman.


February 25, 2017 7:56 PM

Hal said...

Damien,
No, and I forgot to address this previously. While the immaterial can be defined negatively as that which is not material, it can also be defined positively. For example, the immaterial is that which is not extended in space (or not located in any particular place). Indeed, the immaterial is that which is occupies no space or place.

So to understand what is immaterial one has to know the meaning of "extension", "space" and "location". Those terms fall under the category of the material. Your 'positive' definition is still a negation of the material. This is because the concept of immateriality is parasitic upon the concept of the material. You can't even conceive of the immaterial without knowing what is material.

Hal said...

Damien,
Another issue is becoming apparent as to why we are having trouble reaching agreement: I do not share yours or Descartes' conception of the mind.
As I understand it, the mind itself is not a thing or entity. We ascribe a mind to human beings because they have the ability to remember and to reason and to express their thoughts with words. We are not minds, we have minds.

Take care.

Hal said...

Sorry Damian, I just noticed that I spelled your name incorrectly in the last two posts.

Hal said...

Damian,

But you, for example, from the paragraph example you gave, posit the entity (a human person) as being a mind with a material body .......

That is not what I posited. I explicitly denied that a human person is a mind. Here is a short quote from that paragraph:
"Human beings are animals with a distinctive range of abilities. Though they have a mind, they are not identical with the mind they have. Though they have a body, they are not identical with the body they have.

Take care.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Reconquista Initiative said...

" See how fun it is to smack the atheist with his own standards!"
February 21, 2017 3:45 AM

Say there RI, when are you going to start smacking?

I'm still waiting for the immaterialist accounting for the hammer and feather drop on the moon.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C5_dOEyAfk

Why have people all over the Earth independently observed the moon, its features, apparent motion, and phases? For thousands of years billions of people in distant locations all look up in the sky and when we read their written descriptions they match, yet they were written down by different people at different times in far away places with no contact between them. How does that work exactly?

Why is it that Galileo could make lenses and arrange them to see features on the moon, sketch them, and so have countless others, and the sketches show the same major features?

How is it that scientists could calculate the gravity of the moon? How did scientists design rocket motors, formulate rocket fuel, design the machinery, design the computers and control systems, design video and audio communication devices, life support systems, and a complex mission?

How did it happen that the rocket launched, flew on the calculated trajectory, fired retro rockets according to all the calculations and landed on the moon? Then the men got out, walked on the surface, and dropped a feather and a hammer.

How is it that after all that, a quarter of a million miles away, through space, on the surface of another planet, the hammer and the feather dropped just as was calculated here on Earth?

How was all that possible?

I have an explanation. Materialism. There really is a real moon. That is why billions of people over the whole world spanning millennia all report the same major features of this object, because that object is real. The hammer and feather dropped according to predictions because they are real objects with real properties that can be accurately modeled by real people with real brains.

Those real properties are observable in distant objects, and because those objects are real we can really travel to them, and when we get there the observed properties are really still acting by the same principles as we observe them to act right here on Earth.

What is the immaterialist explanation? Anybody?

Reconquista Initiative said...

Hey Hal,

So to understand what is immaterial one has to know the meaning of "extension", "space" and "location". Those terms fall under the category of the material. Your 'positive' definition is still a negation of the material. This is because the concept of immateriality is parasitic upon the concept of the material. You can't even conceive of the immaterial without knowing what is material.

Incorrect. The immaterial can be positively understood as the “mental” (and indeed, Feser’s quote from earlier mentions this). Thoughts or those things that have intentionality are immaterial. For example, first-person subjective consciousness has intentionality, and so it is immaterial. A corollary to this is that thoughts also are not extended in space, which is why the immaterial can be defined negatively in this way. Another way of understanding the immaterial is in a mathematical sense: that which is not measurable is immaterial. Indeed, your consciousness has intentionality (in the philosophical sense), and it thus cannot be measured, your is it located or extended in space.

Additionally, materialism is arguably in even worse shape than immaterialism is in terms of defining itself positively. Indeed, the very host of this blog wrote a post on this problem some time ago:

Hempel's dilemma concerns how we define the physical. If you define the physical in terms of current physics, then anything that is not a part of present physics becomes non-physical. If one the other hand, if future physics is needed to give an account of the physical, then future physics might include anything, including God, and calling something physical doesn't exclude anything, and so it doesn't mean anything.
One might object that any formulation of physicalism which utilizes the theory-based conception will be either trivial or false. Carl Hempel (cf. Hempel 1969, see also Crane and Mellor 1990) provided a classic formulation of this problem: if physicalism is defined via reference to contemporary physics, then it is false — after all, who thinks that contemporary physics is complete? — but if physicalism is defined via reference to a future or ideal physics, then it is trivial — after all, who can predict what a future physics contains? Perhaps, for example, it contains even mental items. The conclusion of the dilemma is that one has no clear concept of a physical property, or at least no concept that is clear enough to do the job that philosophers of mind want the physical to play.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entr...
Attempt to solve this problem usually say that a physical property is a property that, at the most basic level, is not mental. If, at the basic level, the mental is there, then it's not physical.
http://dangerousidea.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/hempels-dilemma-and-via-negativa.html


Notice the last paragraph. It shows that materialists just try to define the matter in a negative sense as that which is not mental. And if they do not do so—meaning if they try to define matter positively—then they fall prey to Hempel’s Dilemma, which shows that there is no coherent way of defining the physical positively. So, arguably, materialism is parasitic on the mental, not vis versa.

(Con’t – 1 of 2)

Reconquista Initiative said...

(Con’t – 2 of 2)

Another issue is becoming apparent as to why we are having trouble reaching agreement: I do not share yours or Descartes' conception of the mind. As I understand it, the mind itself is not a thing or entity. We ascribe a mind to human beings because they have the ability to remember and to reason and to express their thoughts with words. We are not minds, we have minds.

Yes, we do not share the same view of “mind”, but that is why we compare worldviews using the various explanatory criteria. It is also why I say that immaterialism is simpler than your view, because you admit that we have a mind, but then add to it by saying that we are more then just a mind. We are a mind-body composite, but not reducible to either. By contrast, I merely contend that we are minds (thinking things), nothing more. That is why I have continually said that your view is more complex than mine, for it requires more “things” to make a person (a mind, a body (composed of trillions of particles), a unity of each), whereas on my view, all I need is a non-composite mind (the mental).

That is not what I posited. I explicitly denied that a human person is a mind.

Yes, that was sloppy phrasing on my part. But nevertheless, you still posit that humans being have a mind, so we are both in agreement with that, but you posit that we need more things for a human to be a human, whereas I do not posit anything additional, which is why I keep saying that my view is simpler than yours (for example, my view just requires the existence of simple minds not composed of any parts, whereas your view requires minds, material bodies, the unity of both together into a composite of parts, and so on…again, this is why I say that my view is simpler than yours or than any form of materialism and/or dualism).

Anyway, great discussion, but I think it has run its course. Thank you for the interesting exchange. I hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did!

All the best,

Damian Michael

Hal said...

Damian,
It is also why I say that immaterialism is simpler than your view, because you admit that we have a mind, but then add to it by saying that we are more then just a mind. We are a mind-body composite, but not reducible to either. By contrast, I merely contend that we are minds (thinking things), nothing more. That is why I have continually said that your view is more complex than mine, for it requires more “things” to make a person (a mind, a body (composed of trillions of particles), a unity of each), whereas on my view, all I need is a non-composite mind (the mental).

It is clear to me from this response that you don't understand my conception of the mind. The mind is not a thing at all. It therefore makes no sense to say that I need to add a body to it. Nor does it make any sense to say that it can interact with the body.
And I do not think the human being is a composite of mind-body. There is no mind-body dualism in my conception such as one finds in Cartesian dualism or the brain-body dualism found in materialism.

I've also come to realize that we have different conceptions regarding substance. Matter is not a substance that is added on to an entity such as a human being.

Here is a paragraph from P.M.S. Hacker's article Substance: Things and Stuff (I've given a link at the end of the quote):

To say that an S is a substance of a certain kind informs us of the logical character of
the concept of an S rather than telling us further distinguishing material features of S-s. Cabbages and cauliflowers, cats and dogs are kinds of things, just as wine and water, iron and steel are kinds of stuffs. But the concept of a substance (thing) is not the concept of yet another kind of thing and the concept of a substance (stuff) is not the concept of yet another kind of stuff. It was a confusion of Descartes’s to suggest that matter is a kind of substance, and a worse confusion to suggest that mind is another. Matter is simply the formal summum genus of stuffs. The totality of matter is not, contra Descartes, a kind of substance at all. ‘Mind’ does not signify a kind of stuff (nor indeed did Descartes think it did) – it is a count-noun, not mass-noun. In characterizing mind and matter as two kinds (the only two kinds) of substance he was cross-classifying, since count-nouns and mass nouns, if they do signify substances, do not signify substances in the same sense of the term at all and so do not signify two species of a common genus. Moreover, a mind is not a substance, a kind of entity, in any sense of the term. To be sure, what he meant was that the totality of space-matter, given the principle of conservation, and individual minds, given their absolute simplicity, causally depend on nothing other than the concurrence of God for their existence – but this too was confused and it was misconceived to appropriate the concept of substance for this purpose.)

Link:
Substances

In other words, by saying that a human is material substance is not to add another substance {matter}, it is simply to describe what kind of thing it is.

We both agree that human bodies are real. To characterize them as being material is not adding another thing anymore than characterizing a human body as being immaterial would.

Hal said...

Damian,
Just wanted to add:
I've greatly enjoyed this discussion. I can understand why you might feel you can't take anymore time with it. Nor do I think that simply because you don't respond that I have in any way bested you in some sort of intellectual struggle. As far as I am concerned this has been a very fruitful exchange of ideas. Thanks for helping me to understand you position a little better.

Take care!

Stardusty Psyche said...

Reconquista Initiative said...

" Thoughts or those things that have intentionality are immaterial."
Setup for begging the question. You are just defining the immaterial into existence.


" For example, first-person subjective consciousness has intentionality, and so it is immaterial. "
Now you complete your question begging.


"A corollary to this is that thoughts also are not extended in space,"
Thoughts are a brain process, no brain, no thoughts. Since the brain is extended in space and various sections of it are active during various sorts of thinking, then the brain process that is thinking is extended in space.

If a mind is this floaty thing that interacts with a brain and does not occupy space why can't I just float my mind over to some other brain and hook up with it? After all, the mind supposedly survives death, right? So we should all be able to float our minds all over the place, yet my mind stays anchored in my head. Why is that?


February 26, 2017 1:32 PM

Reconquista Initiative said...

Hal,

I just can’t stop myself, but this really will be my last post, so again, I appreciate the exchange. And thank you for the link, it was informative.

It is clear to me from this response that you don't understand my conception of the mind. The mind is not a thing at all. It therefore makes no sense to say that I need to add a body to it. Nor does it make any sense to say that it can interact with the body. And I do not think the human being is a composite of mind-body. There is no mind-body dualism in my conception such as one finds in Cartesian dualism or the brain-body dualism found in materialism.

Hal, I do indeed grasp your view (or at least I believe that I do), and so, in light of what you wrote above, let me just make one more attempt to explain my position concerning why immaterialism is the simpler position (with an understanding that we may be using terms in slightly different ways, which may be the cause of our cross-talk).

In essence, any view of a human person which claims that a person has both actual mental properties (such as consciousness, intentionality, abstract thinking, ideas, etc.) and actual material properties (such as an actual material body that is extended in actual material space) is going to be a view where the human person has multiple properties, and properties which are both mental and material. Thus, on any such view, the human person is a composite of the mental and the material in the sense that he has both mental and material properties, each of which is not reducible to the other. And this fact would apply to such views as substance-dualism, property-dualism, hylomorphic-dualism, and many forms of materialism / naturalism that posit the real existence of mental phenomenon. Now, the only two views that really get away from this type of “dualism” (and I use that word with the necessary caveats in place) is either eliminative materialism (which eliminates all mental phenomena and considers them to be unreal) or eliminative mentalism (ie – immaterialism, which considers matter to be unreal).

Thus, immaterialism (or eliminative mentalism) is simpler than any form of the aforementioned “dualisms” because it removes the material aspect from the mental aspect. Furthermore, an immaterial mind is absolutely simple (not composed of parts, as PMS Hacker from your linked essay notes himself) whereas any material thing is composed of parts, such as individual particles of matter; and any material person is also composed of different large-scale material parts such as a heart, a liver, and so on.

So, immaterialism is simpler because it can account for all human experience by never moving past the mental. It does not need matter. By contrast, any view which posits the real existence of matter, but also asserts the real existence of the mental, is “dualistic” in the sense that it posits both these aspects, and so is more complex than a view which can simply account for reality merely by positing just the mental (ie – absolutely simple “minds”).

So, even though you note that you do not consider the mind to be “a thing”, this does nothing to make your view simpler, because (as far as I can tell) you are still positing the real existence of both the mental and the material as part of reality, which immaterialism does not do. Immaterialism keeps everything in the realm of the mental, and does not add anything to that.

Con't

Reconquista Initiative said...

I've greatly enjoyed this discussion. ... Nor do I think that simply because you don't respond that I have in any way bested you in some sort of intellectual struggle. As far as I am concerned this has been a very fruitful exchange of ideas. Thanks for helping me to understand you position a little better.

Me too. Furthermore, as far as “besting” anyone is concerned, I have long given up trying to convince anyone of my views. I simply express them as best as possible, and if people are receptive, then great, and if not, then that is fine as well.

Finally, thank you as well for helping me understand your views. In fact, given our discussion, I am even wondering whether I should drop the term ‘immaterialism’ and replace it with something like ‘mentalism’ to make it more clear. So the discussion has been fruitful in that respect.

And so, for the last time on this thread: thank you!

Damian Michael

Stardusty Psyche said...

Reconquista Initiative said...

" I am even wondering whether I should drop the term ‘immaterialism’ and replace it with something like ‘mentalism’ to make it more clear. So the discussion has been fruitful in that respect."

Good idea, and drop "material", "materialist" and "thing" as well, since your definitions are either flat wrong or so low on the list as to be an obfuscation.

materialist = material-only-ist

material = substance, stuff, medium (presently known and presently unknown)

thing = a material object


Also, go back and fix all your irrational arguments based on your many misunderstandings, get rid of the strawmen you employ, don't expect your reader to assume an obscure definition for a word when unambiguous words could have been employed, work on making your posts less long winded, and improve your character by ceasing to take smug pleasure in attempts to "smack" people, particularly when you lack the capacity to actually deliver that "smack".


February 26, 2017 4:50 PM

David Brightly said...

DM,

And a test, to be fair, needs to be regular, consistent, and coherent. That is why an immaterial world on Christian theism would be regular and consistent.

But is the world we find ourselves in actually regular and consistent in this aspect? There is the phenomenon of 'moral luck' in which some of us are tested rather more rigorously than others.

And is it a wise move to chase me into the garden of forking materialities? For I can reply that 'no two minds are alike' and maybe there are as many kinds of mindedness as elementary particle. In effect you are turning the very success of materialistic theorising against itself. What can be said for idealistic theorising? I don't think it helps to say that mind is absolutely simple [4:50 PM] My mindedness of the house opposite seems to be a mindedness of its roof, a mindedness of its windows, a mindedness of its door, and so on, all at once. Decidedly composite.

Hal said...

Damian,
So, even though you note that you do not consider the mind to be “a thing”, this does nothing to make your view simpler, because (as far as I can tell) you are still positing the real existence of both the mental and the material as part of reality, which immaterialism does not do. Immaterialism keeps everything in the realm of the mental, and does not add anything to that.

I'm afraid this leaves me with the conclusion that I don't understand you view. Earlier you said that human bodies are real, that the world we inhabit is real and that the objects we encounter in the world are real. So when a human thinks about drinking a beer she really does go to the fridge, takes out a bottle and drinks a cold beer. It is not just an illusion. But how can you describe that event without assigning corporeal and mental powers to the human?
I don't understand why you think your account would be any simpler than mine. Even with the claim that everything is mental or immaterial you still end up with just as complex a description of that event.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly

” I don't think it helps to say that mind is absolutely simple [4:50 PM] “

I’m not sure he actually said that. Only that mind is simpler than mind plus matter.
He might say that a mind would also require something to create it and hold it in existence and in that case it would require 2 things an immaterial entity (mind) and an act of existence making it a composite.

”But Rosenberg thinks there is no chance of finding within the brain any structure that could be the self, any structures that could be beliefs, etc, etc. So he denies these things scientific reality. But (and this is me not Rosenberg) this need not mean that they lack human reality. “

How do you distinguish between “scientific reality” and “human reality” as a materialist?

David Brightly said...

Consider embarrassment (E). We are good at recognising the external signs of E in others, and particularly good at recognising the internal signs of E in ourselves. But we aren't going to make a scientific instrument capable of detecting E any time soon. To be capable of detecting E you have to be a human being. So although from my perspective E must be grounded in our physical state it's invisible to scientific instruments, and so I say it lacks scientific reality. I think it's clear now that our senses rely on complex neural pattern recognition networks processing signals from our sense organs carrying information from outside. Embarrassment, or at any rate the propensity to utter, Oh dear, I'm embarrassed! must result from turning such networks onto signals carrying information about our internal state. But only humans have such networks, so E has human reality if not scientific reality.

Stardusty Psyche said...

David Brightly said...

" Consider embarrassment (E). We are good at recognising the external signs of E in others, and particularly good at recognising the internal signs of E in ourselves. But we aren't going to make a scientific instrument capable of detecting E any time soon. To be capable of detecting E you have to be a human being."

Wrong.

https://imotions.com/facial-expressions/?gclid=CjwKEAiA3NTFBRDKheuO6IG43VQSJAA74F77veZZu9GtFTBYfY1-PwP7gxKjQU_hf93iAZAO_BDEoRoCharw_wcB

https://ibug.doc.ic.ac.uk/media/uploads/documents/EncycBiometrics-Pantic-FacExpRec-PROOF.pdf

"As announced recently by the Wall Street Journal, Apple has just bought Emotient [4], ‘a startup company that utilises artificial intelligence to analyze facial expressions and read emotions'. "


" So although from my perspective E must be grounded in our physical state it's invisible to scientific instruments,"

Wrong, (see above)

" and so I say it lacks scientific reality."

Wrong. (see above)

"I think it's clear now that our senses rely on complex neural pattern recognition networks processing signals from our sense organs carrying information from outside. Embarrassment, or at any rate the propensity to utter, Oh dear, I'm embarrassed! must result from turning such networks onto signals carrying information about our internal state. But only humans have such networks,"

Wrong. (see above)

" so E has human reality if not scientific reality."

Wrong. (see above)

Human beings are, among other things, pattern recognition computing devices. Human beings express their thoughts in a variety of ways such as written words, spoken words, facial expressions, and overall body language. These expressive processes are interrelated and physically detectable by machines. Machines with sufficient computing power and detection algorithms are capable already of detecting a very great deal of human expression in various forms, including emotive facial expressions.

Your separation between human reality and scientific reality is itself illusory.


February 28, 2017 2:31 AM

David Brightly said...

Sure, SP, but I think you have missed the point. To tell that I'm embarrassed I don't look in the mirror.

Stardusty Psyche said...

David Brightly said...

" Sure, SP, but I think you have missed the point. To tell that I'm embarrassed I don't look in the mirror."

You use an internal feedback path very similar to looking in a mirror, which is also a feedback path, but one that has as part of the feedback loop energy transfer elements that pass outside the brain and then back into the brain.

Your internal feedback path is also and energy transfer path, but wholly within the brain.

" it's invisible to scientific instruments, and so I say it lacks scientific reality."
Did the far side of the moon lack scientific reality prior to the first spacecraft that returned images of it?


February 28, 2017 4:05 AM

Stardusty Psyche said...

Reconquista Initiative said...

" any view of a human person which claims that a person has both actual mental properties (such as consciousness, intentionality, abstract thinking, ideas, etc.) and actual material properties (such as an actual material body that is extended in actual material space) is going to be a view where the human person has multiple properties, and properties which are both mental and material. "

False. Thinking is like running, a process of the material. We do not have a "running property" as an existent thing. Our material bodies act in a complicated temporal process we call "running".


"Thus, on any such view, the human person is a composite of the mental and the material in the sense that he has both mental and material properties, each of which is not reducible to the other."

False. Thinking is reducible to a brain process.


" And this fact would apply to such views as substance-dualism, property-dualism, hylomorphic-dualism, and many forms of materialism / naturalism that posit the real existence of mental phenomenon. Now, the only two views that really get away from this type of “dualism” (and I use that word with the necessary caveats in place) is either eliminative materialism (which eliminates all mental phenomena and considers them to be unreal) or eliminative mentalism (ie – immaterialism, which considers matter to be unreal)."

False. Ordinary neuroscience reduces thinking to a real process of the brain.


" Furthermore, an immaterial mind is absolutely simple (not composed of parts,"

Incoherent. My thoughts are composed of many parts. I see and hear and think in multitudes of details, yet the mind has no details, no parts, no structure?


" So, immaterialism is simpler because it can account for all human experience "

False. Immaterialism accounts for nothing. It is an incoherent assertion utterly lacking in explanatory value or power.


February 26, 2017 4:50 PM

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

So it seems that you depart from the eliminative materialist view in that there is something distinctly human in addition to sense perception (that can be amplified with scientific instruments).

It that “something” persistent then? I mean we know that we retain none of the molecules that we started out with as a child, so we know that the material stuff we are made of is not persistent. What is it that retains the memory of the experiences and what is a memory?

David Brightly said...

Well, I'm sure there is something distinctive going on in my brain when I'm embarrassed, but apart from guessing that it's neuro-chemical activity of some sort I'm completely in the dark as to what it is. All I can do is say, It's embarrassment.

Instrumentation comes in because our ability to build an instrument to detect some phenomenon is often an indicator of how well understood and integrated it is into our scientific picture. Roughly, if we can't measure it, it ain't scientific.

Stardusty Psyche said...

bmiller said...

"I mean we know that we retain none of the molecules that we started out with as a child, "
And only a tiny fraction of the details of memories of childhood as well.

" What is it that retains the memory of the experiences and what is a memory?"
A memory is retained by a physical structure that stores information. Memories fade. Details get lost. They can also be refreshed, but then they will fade again.

The overall structure can survive replacement of tiny parts of it just as the structure of a puzzle would remain after replacing every piece one piece at a time.

The immaterialist version is what? Memories are stored absent any structure at all? The mind has all these complex features in thoughts yet the mind also has no complexity in its structure? What preposterous, incoherent, babble.


February 28, 2017 5:51 AM

Stardusty Psyche said...


Blogger David Brightly said...

" Roughly, if we can't measure it, it ain't scientific."
The far side of the moon was not measured prior to spaceflight. So, the far side of the moon was unscientific until spaceflight?


February 28, 2017 7:13 AM

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,


"Instrumentation comes in because our ability to build an instrument to detect some phenomenon is often an indicator of how well understood and integrated it is into our scientific picture. Roughly, if we can't measure it, it ain't scientific."


So do you allow for knowledge outside of the "scientific" I mean even in principle we can't measure many mathematical concepts but yet somehow we can understand them.

And BTW, I'm interested in your answer to the "self persistence" question.

William said...

" Roughly, if we can't measure it, it ain't scientific."
The far side of the moon was not measured prior to spaceflight. So, the far side of the moon was unscientific until spaceflight?

Distinction should be made here between:

1. scientific describing an extremely useful type of cultural practice of gathering knowledge
2. scientific as a term to classify knowledge according to source
3. scientific as a term to classify objects in the world based on how we learn about them.

I would refer you to this ebook: Scientism and its Discontents, part 2, where a similar distinction is made, as analogous to the term "healthy."

bmiller said...

@William,

Thanks for the link to the article. Both parts are excellent.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Blogger William said...

" I would refer you to this ebook: Scientism and its Discontents, part 2, where a similar distinction is made, as analogous to the term "healthy.""
What an incredibly verbose, diffuse, vague, and rambling work.

Does she have a point to make? Based on what? The sheer volume of vague generalities makes the articles painfully tedious and ultimately pointless.

At one point she makes the self contradictory statement “it’s all physical, all right; but it isn’t all physics."

She continues with this muddled mess "To be sure, the human mind would be impossible without the human brain; but the brain isn’t all there is to it. Rather, it’s culture that makes mindedness possible—even as, at the same time, mindedness makes culture possible."

Sorry William, I know you meant well, but I just can't take that much muddled mush.


February 28, 2017 12:05 PM

William said...

Dustie:

We both disagree with her about culture, but for opposing reasons, it seems: I think culture isn't (only) physical, and you may, give what you said against the work about physics and physical, think culture is (only) material.

It also seems she might have hit a nerve, to get such a review from you?

David Brightly said...

Knowledge outside of the scientific? Certainly. Bob P several threads back gave us a long list of topics which figure in the human world and have to be understood in human terms and about which science has very little to say. Mathematics is tricky. It seems to be about abstract structure or pattern. The science of Aristotelian form perhaps?

What is persistent? I guess the scientific picture of living things is more of an ongoing process like a wave on the ocean or a candle flame rather than a 'substance'. Living is more doing than being. But it's not chaos. There can be stable structures within living things even if there is a slow continuous flow of matter through them. In the human picture we talk of having a mind or being a mind. The scientific picture would probably want to talk about a 'minding' process that proceeds while we are awake and ceases when we are dreamlessly sleeping, adjusting the synaptic strengths between neurons in order to represent new belief (though that is a human picture term!) So here is an immediate hard-to-resolve clash of the two viewpoints.

What counts as scientific? I'm using the term in William's sense (2) to qualify knowledge in the first instance, and then by extension to sense (3) to qualify objects. Until Lunar 3 we had no knowledge at all of the far side of the moon. A fortiori, we had no scientific knowledge of it, so it was unscientific in sense (3).

Stardusty Psyche said...

William said...

" We both disagree with her about culture, but for opposing reasons, it seems: I think culture isn't (only) physical, and you may, give what you said against the work about physics and physical, think culture is (only) material."
If, as she says, it's all physical than culture would have to be only physical. But how are we to make a transfer function equation set from the standard model to our cultural observations? We can't. We never will. It is vastly too complex for any hope of such a thing.

Scientists and scientifically minded people know that.

Also, science is provisional by its nature, we know that too.

What is this so called "scientism"?

I think it is a strawman made up by theists and philosophers. An over simplified view of how scientists and scientifically minded people think that attributes a sort of blind, almost childish view to us, as though we are not ourselves keenly aware of what science is and is not.


" It also seems she might have hit a nerve, to get such a review from you?"
*I've only got one nerve left and you're getting on it!!!*

Well, it's not as bad as all that :-)


March 01, 2017 12:12 AM

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

"I guess the scientific picture of living things is more of an ongoing process like a wave on the ocean or a candle flame rather than a 'substance'."

Wouldn’t you agree though that there must be an “actual something” to undergo a process? The examples of the “actual somethings” you gave that were undergoing a process were “the ocean”, “a candle” and “a mind”. Also, if I look at the dictionary, there are several different definitions of process. I’d be interested which of those you have in mind.

I can conclude from my own experience that I have been a persistent being at least as long as I’ve been alive. I also know that I can’t be just the material that presently makes me up since none of it has persisted the entire time of my life. So something has persisted that entire time and that something cannot be just the material that presently makes (or made) me up although it may presently be part of it.

Hal said...

bmiller,

You are an animate substance. Like all animate substances you are a spatial-temporal continuant (a persistent being). It is the nature of animate substances that they undergo continual changes just to remain alive.

A time traveller could go back in time and trace your continued existence through time and space up to this moment. That you have undergone physical changes does not negate that fact.

Also, neither materialism nor immaterialism negates this fact.

bmiller said...

@Hal,

I can't tell if you agree or disagree with what I posted, although I think you agree.

I'm interested in what David has to say about what about me persists over time. He mentioned that perhaps the scientific picture would call it a "minding" process but not chaos.

So two things then:
1) If the process is not chaotic, then it must be ordered toward a particular effect or a range of effects rather than others.
2) It seems to me that process can just mean change, but change cannot exist independent of an "actual something" that is changing but somehow remains essentially the same.

Just exploring what he has in mind.

Hal said...

bmiller,
I agree with your claim that we are persistent beings. I disagree with your earlier claim that because there are changes in the stuff of which our bodies are made this shows that materialism is false. It is irrelevant to the truth of either materialism or immaterialism.

bmiller said...

@Hal,

" I disagree with your earlier claim that because there are changes in the stuff of which our bodies are made this shows that materialism is false."

I did not merely claim that the material stuff of which our bodies were made of changes, I claimed that all of the original material stuff is gone (as far as our bodies are concerned). Not a single original quark(or the fundamental particle of your choice) is bodily present now. So if we are made up only of quarks we are not persistent.

So what is persistent if it's not made of fundamental particles?

William said...

"I claimed that all of the original material stuff is gone (as far as our bodies are concerned)."

What evidence do you have for this assertion? This is in fact a philosophical urban legend where everyone vaguely quotes stuff that was published as speculation in the 1950's after there was study of the longevity of nuclear fallout in the body, and body water turnover was measured with radioactive water.

It is likely true that most of the body is water, and this water flows in and through us. However, bone turnover is far slower, and some tissues, such as tendons, turn over even less. Brain tissue contains some neurons which have not divided since we were born. DNA repair in those cells is not pervasive enough to turn over much of it over our lifespan: see, in the mouse, this old study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4421229

So not all the atoms of the human body turn over during life, though perhaps over 99% do. Sort of like an old city: there are usually a often a few buildings that do not change much over centuries, though almost all do.

Does it matter? Probably not, if you think that the material stuff is not all there is to it :)

bmiller said...

@William,

Ha! "Does it matter?" :-)

I didn't verify this quote, but Dawkins is quoted here as saying:


"not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place
when referring to your atoms over your lifetime.

I know he has street cred here :-)

William said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stardusty Psyche said...

David Brightly said...

" What counts as scientific? "
An important question with a fairly complex set of answers.

I'm using the term in William's sense (2) to qualify knowledge in the first instance, and then by extension to sense (3) to qualify objects. Until Lunar 3 we had no knowledge at all of the far side of the moon. A fortiori, we had no scientific knowledge of it, so it was unscientific in sense (3)."
But then, not in a sense scientists would generally agree with.

Science uses the cosmological principle. Without this principle we could not do science. It just means that principles are the same wherever conditions are the same. On the cosmological principle no place in the observable universe is special.

For example, if I learn that hydrogen of a particular temperature and pressure has certain properties over here, then I also have scientific knowledge of hydrogen over there, and everyplace else, even if I cannot directly observe hydrogen in all those other places.

Now, one might complain that is inductive and therefore uncertain, fair enough, but science is not absolutely certain. Science doesn't do absolute proof. Science is inherently provisional.

So, a very great deal was scientifically known about the far side of the moon before spaceflight because scientists applied inductive reasoning in keeping with the cosmological principle.


March 01, 2017 6:11 AM

Stardusty Psyche said...

bmiller said...


" I can conclude from my own experience that I have been a persistent being at least as long as I’ve been alive."
Have you? Are you the same now as when you were 1 minute old? 1 year old? 5 years old? 10? 15? 20?

Can you remember now all the things in all the details that you could remember when you were 10? Is your hair the same? Your face the same? Your lungs the same? Your arteries the same? Your brain the same?

Where did all those details you use to know so well vanish to? Unless your name is Dorian Gray you are so entirely persistent over the years.


" I also know that I can’t be just the material that presently makes me up since none of it has persisted the entire time of my life. "
Non-sequitur. You neglect to understand that a structure can remain intact if small elements of it are replaces one at a time over a long period of time.

"So something has persisted that entire time "
Indeed, a great deal of the structure of your brain and your body has persisted. It has morphed as well.

"and that something cannot be just the material"
Wrong.

Suppose you put together a puzzle. But you didn't buy just 1 puzzle, you bought 10,000 puzzles, all from the same manufacturing lot as the 1. Then you dumped all those pieces into a great big bin.

So, once per day, you pull out 1 piece from the assembled puzzle and you throw it away, gone forever. Then you dig around in the bin, find just the right replacement piece, and put it back into the puzzle.

Suppose you do this replacement of 1 piece every day. Would the puzzle ever change its picture? Would the puzzle ever change its arrangement? How many years until 99% of the pieces were 99% likely to have been replaced at least 1 time?

Has the structure of the puzzle persisted? Is the puzzle somehow immaterial because its structure has persisted even though almost none or perhaps none of the original parts remain?

That's how people are. We regenerate ourselves 1 cell at a time, but our overall structure, is a continual morph of the previous structure, and still very largely the same as it has been for many years, yet changed in many ways also.


March 01, 2017 8:33 AM

Stardusty Psyche said...

bmiller said...

" but change cannot exist independent of an "actual something" that is changing "
Right, which of course renders any sort of immaterialism illusory.


March 01, 2017 10:41 AM

bmiller said...

@Hal, @David Brightly,

I'll wait for your replies.

Hal said...

bmiller,
I did not merely claim that the material stuff of which our bodies were made of changes, I claimed that all of the original material stuff is gone (as far as our bodies are concerned). Not a single original quark(or the fundamental particle of your choice) is bodily present now. So if we are made up only of quarks we are not persistent.

So what is persistent if it's not made of fundamental particles?


You are confusing two kinds of substance: things and stuff. What is persistent is the kind of thing your are: a living animal with the capacity to reason and act for reasons. The change of the kind of stuff you are made of does not negate that persistence.

David Brightly said...

I agree that our ordinary human view of ourselves as persistent beings is somewhat at odds with the view from science. For me the question is not so much to ask, Well, which one is right? but to see if by making some adjustments we can pull the views into alignment and have them sit together more comfortably.

First, I think that to a first approximation what persists in us is not the stuff we are made of but the form it takes. Wikipedia tells us that the average lifetime of a human red blood cell is 120 days. But the structure of such cells, which determines their functionality, maybe doesn't change very much at all over a human lifetime. This is plausible if said structure is largely dependent on the DNA in our bone marrow cells where the erythrocytes are made, and this is not normally subject to change. So, extrapolating from this single case, our form is much longer-lived than the stuff that makes us up. But we know this can't be entirely right because we grow from babies to children to adults and then slowly decay towards death. Also, and important for present purposes, our form presumably changes as we learn new things and lay down memories of events.

Second, I'm impressed that my mindfulness, though it does seem continuous from moment to moment, is also subject to regular eight hour long gaps every night. Why do I think that the mindfulness that awakes every morning is the 'same' mindfulness that went to sleep the previous night? The answer has to be that the morning mindfulness has access to the memories laid down previously. The face in the mirror looks just like the one I remember seeing yesterday. The pain in my left knee has the same qualities as the pain I remember I took to the doctor yesterday. The feelings I have for, and my behaviour towards the people and things around me are just like yesterday's, and so on. There are no surprises. Except perhaps when I wake up on my first day of vacation. None of this requires anything more persistent than my form.

To conclude: There are reasons for thinking that there is something rather more persistent in the scientific image of ourselves than there might seem before reflection. Likewise there maybe something less persistent in the human picture of ourselves than we find at first sight. If these degrees of persistence are now comparable we might start to think that the scientific image and the human image are just different viewpoints on to the same reality.

bmiller said...

@Hal, @David Brightly,

Hal said:
”You are confusing two kinds of substance: things and stuff. What is persistent is the kind of thing your are: a living animal with the capacity to reason and act for reasons. The change of the kind of stuff you are made of does not negate that persistence”.

David Brightly said:
”First, I think that to a first approximation what persists in us is not the stuff we are made of but the form it takes.”

Thanks for the responses gentlemen. I picked these 2 quotes out because I think they refer to the same concept.

Hal, could you agree to substituting “form” for “thing”? I ask this because if an entity consists of “things” and “stuff” we may run into equivocation issues since in your view an entity consists of 2 substances and most people would call the combination of those 2 substances a “thing”. We should probably find a different word for “stuff” also for the same reason. I’m open for suggestions.

In any event it looks like both of you agree that something exists and persists in addition to “stuff” (quarks or whatever fundamental material particles). But if form is not made of “stuff”, what is it’s nature?

Hal said...

bmiller,
I ask this because if an entity consists of “things” and “stuff” we may run into equivocation issues since in your view an entity consists of 2 substances and most people would call the combination of those 2 substances a “thing”

I never said an entity consists of "things" and "stuff"! Or that an an entity is 2 substances.

The concept of substance is a complex one. We can use it to refer to the thing a substance is as well as to the stuff a thing is made of. That doesn't mean there are two different "things". There is only one thing.

By the way, I would suggest dropping the term "entity" in this discussion and simply use the term "thing". In this context, their meaning are exactly the same.

bmiller said...

@Hal,

Thanks for the reply.

”By the way, I would suggest dropping the term "entity" in this discussion and simply use the term "thing". In this context, their meaning are exactly the same.”

Fair enough. I agree that using that word could add confusion and I missed that substance was what there were 2 of.

”The concept of substance is a complex one. We can use it to refer to the thing a substance is as well as to the stuff a thing is made of. That doesn't mean there are two different "things". There is only one thing.”

So before you mentioned that there are 2 kinds of substance, “things” and “stuff” with “stuff” substance being quarks etc. The other kind of substance is a “thing” which sounds to me something I would call human nature. Is “stuff” substance a necessary partial constituent of “thing” substance then?

Hal said...

bmiller,

So before you mentioned that there are 2 kinds of substance, “things” and “stuff” with “stuff” substance being quarks etc.

That is getting closer to what I was attempting to say in my previous posts. Thanks for taking the effort to try and understand my position.
Here is a clarification of what a substance (stuff) is:
Anything below the atomic level is not a substance but a particle. Those particles are not "stuff" in the sense I am using it here. A substance (stuff) is space occupying and can be partitioned or seperated into smaller portions and still retain its identity. So, for example, one could divide a chunk of gold into nuggets, grains, shavings. This division could occur all the way down to the atomic level. But gold atoms do not consist of gold. In the same way, water could be seperated down to the molecular level. And blood down to the molar level, before it would cease to be blood but lymphatics, red and white blood corpuscles.


The other kind of substance is a “thing” which sounds to me something I would call human nature.

Yes. To say that a human person is a substance is to say what kind of thing it is. Here is a good summary of human nature:

Human beings are animals with a distinctive range of abilites. Though they have a mind, they are not identical with the mind they have. Though they have a body, they are not identical with the body they have. Nor is a human being a conjuction of a mind and a body that causally interact with each other. Like other animals, human beings have a brain on the normal functioning of which their powers depend. But a human person is not a brain enclosed in a skull. A mature human being is a self-conscious agent, with the ability to act, and to react in thought, feeling and deed, for reasons.

I am assuming that we would both agree on the text that I have bolded. Not so sure about the rest. :-)


Is “stuff” substance a necessary partial constituent of “thing” substance then?

Since humans have bodies and if their bodies are destroyed then (at least in the world we currently live in) they would be destroyed it certainly seems that having a body is necessary for being a human.
However, describing or explaining what it means for "a human to have a body" is not going to be easy in the short space we have available in this format. Will have to take a little more time to address your question more completely.

bmiller said...

@Hal,

Thanks for the detail so far. I'll wait for the rest of your explanation before I ask any more questions.

David Brightly said...

Though they have a mind, they are not identical with the mind they have. Though they have a body, they are not identical with the body they have.

So there are three things: my body ≠ me ≠ my mind? Can this be right?

Hal said...

David,
I have a short temper. Does that mean there are two things: me and a temper?

David Brightly said...

Yes, if you aren't identical with your temper.

Hal said...

David,
So where is this temper? I've never seen or touched a temper.

William said...

Going back to the burden of proof discussion, I found an interesting and coherent if not all that agreeable take on the burden of proof from a "leftist feminist" point of view, here, calling it something intriguing, Epistemic Exploitation:

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ergo/12405314.0003.022?view=text;rgn=main

bmiller said...

@Hal, @David Brightly,

It seems to me from both of your responses that what persists in us is "form" in one case and "human nature" in the other case.

Are these 2 the same thing?

bmiller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bmiller said...

@William,

The article kind of boils down to how frustrating it is to argue with ignorant people doesn't it.

William said...

bmiller,

The analogy to burden of proof with a phrase like "the need for additional labor created by the default skepticism of the privileged" seems pretty clear.

bmiller said...

@William,

If you recall, the "Aswedenism" post, it was a parody of a typical atheist tactic of not having to defend their position while being able to attack their opponent by claiming that only those making an "affirmative claim" have a burden of proof.

Eve Keneinan has a series of posts exploring the origin of that position linked here: burden of proof. You may be interested.

Hal said...

bmiller,
It seems to me from both of your responses that what persists in us is "form" in one case and "human nature" in the other case.

Are these 2 the same thing?


First of all, based on my short interaction with David Brightly, I doubt that he and I share the same conception of what a human person is. So I would not be confident in claiming these to be the same thing.

In any case, what persists from the moment of birth until death is the human person herself. Since humans are living things they naturally undergo considerable changes during their lifetimes. You appear to draw the conclusion that we can't be said to persist because of those changes. I find that conclusion hard to accept because as living beings we can only continue to exist as humans because of those changes.

I'm guessing that you think there is some sort of 'inner thing' such as a mind or soul that is the true self. I can't share that assumption because the mind is not a thing at all. It is not a substance in the sense of a thing or of stuff. However, it is true that humans have a mind: that is we have intellectual powers by which we can reason and act for reasons.

bmiller said...

@Hal,

Thanks for the answer.

I don't think your position and mine are that far apart in the end.

But this part of your answer is interesting"
" the mind is not a thing at all. It is not a substance in the sense of a thing or of stuff. However, it is true that humans have a mind: that is we have intellectual powers by which we can reason and act for reasons."

Can I take it then that you think that "mind" actually exists, even though it does not fall into either of the 2 categories of substance you listed. Is it a second category that is different than substance? Are there other members of this other category?

David Brightly said...

I think we have all seen, heard, and felt someone else's temper and we know from a first person point of view what it is to have a temper. But does this make a temper a thing? It's not obvious to me that our use of the noun 'temper' is more than a manner of speaking. Likewise words like 'self' and 'mind' which are also nouns and have both first and third person aspects. Something I find interesting about these terms is that we can learn to use them at all. After all, they don't denote obviously physical bodies like, say, a bar of chocolate, that can be laid on the table, looked at, handled, and talked about. Instead, people will say that they are 'immaterial' things. For me this is too easy a conclusion that if followed leads us into strange places. Is there an alternative?

Start with a smile or a blink or a laugh. These are 'things' that we do with our bodies that we readily recognise. They aren't objects as such but they are surely physical motions of bodies. Animals do these things too. What about singing, farming, and cooking? Apart perhaps from singing we are now exclusively in human territory. Again physical motions of bodies, if more complicated. Lastly, consider teaching, caring, loving. Still physical motions of bodies, or has something more crept in? I say this sequence of behaviours is increasing in complexity and hence in the sophistication of the neural machinery needed to recognise them. If you want to introduce any 'immateriality' at all you have to put it in right back at the beginning where what is being recognised is pattern of motion rather than pattern of matter.

Extrapolating this line of thought once again we arrive at the idea that 'self', 'person', 'mind' aren't names of things material or immaterial, but names of complex motions. In our ordinary conception of ourselves they are nouns because that conception is inherently dualistic. Our ancestors were unable to think that these complex motions could be produced in matter alone. So for them there just had to be obviously immaterial entities that animated their bodies. But I'm not suggesting that these terms lack meaning or reality. Rather they should be seen as verbs. Thus my body 'selfs', 'persons', and 'minds' from time to time.

Why do we care so about persons rather than bodies? Obviously looks and strength are important to some extent. But humans differ from animals in the enormous variety of what they can do and evolution has tuned us to be exquisitely sensitive to behaviour. So we care foremost for what people do rather than what they are, and we label this doing 'being a person'. Ironically, what underlies being a person is precisely a material thing, namely, a specific neural architecture.

Hal said...

bmiller,

Can I take it then that you think that "mind" actually exists, even though it does not fall into either of the 2 categories of substance you listed. Is it a second category that is different than substance? Are there other members of this other category?

As you note, I don't think the mind is a substance in either of the two meanings of that term. I do think humans really do have minds. But by that I mean we have fairly well established criteria for attributing a mind to humans. If someday we should encounter alien life forms I think we could apply those same criteria to determine whether or not they have minds.

We certainly agree that materialism is false. And I would imagine we share a critical view of the widespread scientism that is so prevelant in modern culture. I also don't think that my understanding of what a human person is undermines or threatens theism. At least not the Abrahamic varieties. In those faiths it is generally recognized that the body is an essential element of being human and so there is a need for the resurrection of that body. You shouldn't take anything I've said here as an attempt to argue against theism.

Take care.

bmiller said...

@Hal,

OK, thanks for sharing.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

"Our ancestors were unable to think that these complex motions could be produced in matter alone. So for them there just had to be obviously immaterial entities that animated their bodies. But I'm not suggesting that these terms lack meaning or reality. Rather they should be seen as verbs. Thus my body 'selfs', 'persons', and 'minds' from time to time."

So can I conclude that you equate these "complex motions" with what you referred to as "form" previously? And it is these sequence of "complex motions" that persist? If that is so, how is memory involved as part of these "complex motions"? Is memory also a "complex motion"? How would that work?

William said...

@bmiller:

I didn't verify this quote, but Dawkins is quoted here as saying:


"not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place when referring to your atoms over your lifetime.

I know he has street cred here :-)

----------------------------

I found you were right, Dawkins was another one to fall for that old canard :)

I decided this merited an essay, posted here:

http://tropicalsynapses.blogspot.com/2017/03/is-human-body-ship-of-theseus-comments.html

David Brightly said...

Form = Motion? No. Animal form is structure or arrangement of matter. But such arrangements aren't rigid like rocks. They allow for relative movement of parts great and small, and hence movement of the whole. Such movements are the complex motions. Some motions, like my breathing and heart beating, are persistent. Others, like sneezing, are transient. The continuous replacement of bodily matter with equivalent matter I don't regard as a motion. It's just the maintenance of form in the face of entropy. Memory I imagine must be encoded as subtle changes of form. Remembering must be a transient motion involving such changed form.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

"Some motions, like my breathing and heart beating, are persistent. Others, like sneezing, are transient. The continuous replacement of bodily matter with equivalent matter I don't regard as a motion."

But doesn't "replacement" involve movement also? It seems to me that just as it is natural for one to breath it is also natural for one to slough off dead cells. Aren't both part of the "complex motion" of a person?

"Extrapolating this line of thought once again we arrive at the idea that 'self', 'person', 'mind' aren't names of things material or immaterial, but names of complex motions. In our ordinary conception of ourselves they are nouns because that conception is inherently dualistic. Our ancestors were unable to think that these complex motions could be produced in matter alone. So for them there just had to be obviously immaterial entities that animated their bodies. But I'm not suggesting that these terms lack meaning or reality. Rather they should be seen as verbs. Thus my body 'selfs', 'persons', and 'minds' from time to time."

Does this mean you are positing a third category in addition to material and immaterial? But how could something be both "not material" (which is the definition of immaterial) and "not immaterial" (which due to double negative is the definition of material)?

bmiller said...

@William,

Nice blog post (and site). Yes, the "Ship of Theseus" thought experiment gets us to think about what things really are regardless of how much of the original remains.

"Not if, like most of the world's population, you know that a ship is not just deadwood, and that matter is not all there is to living."

I think that you're right that this is the way that people actually live their lives, but I wonder how many would actually proclaim either a materialist or immaterialist philosophy if you asked them.

David Brightly said...

Replacement versus non-replacement motion Hmmm. Maybe this distinction is not sustainable. Has intuitive appeal though, especially if we see things in terms of a persistent 'it' that does stuff yet needs maintenance.

A third category? Gosh, I hope not! I have always struggled to grasp what people mean by 'immaterial' in the context of philosophy of mind. This is an attempt to understand it in terms of form (itself abstract) and patterned change in form (second order abstract, as it were), though all this is firmly grounded in material stuff and recognisable by material stuff.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

"Has intuitive appeal though, especially if we see things in terms of a persistent 'it' that does stuff yet needs maintenance."

Both body and mind need maintenance don't you think and aren't both part of the "form"?

" I have always struggled to grasp what people mean by 'immaterial' in the context of philosophy of mind."

What you think they mean by "immaterial" in this context. Maybe a better question is "what do you think immaterial means"? Can anything(in any sense) "immaterial" exist?

David Brightly said...

What would 'mind maintenance' be? Reading, writing, thinking, mental exercise (itself a metaphor from bodily exercise)? It seems to me that despite bodily aches and pains and infections my mind reliably pops up every morning. As long as I keep it supplied with protein and vitamins and oxygen it seems my brain looks after itself. Except we know there are degenerative diseases of the brain that affect the working of the mind. And anaesthetics. I regard the mind as something the body does by virtue of its form.

What is meant by 'immaterial'? I don't know. There are whole categories regarded as immaterial: numbers, abstractions, sensations, beliefs, attitudes, obligations, meanings, thoughts, reason. The only unity here is that nobody can see any material foundations for these categories. The naturalist's task is to find piecemeal ways to achieve exactly that.

bmiller said...

"What is meant by 'immaterial'? I don't know. There are whole categories regarded as immaterial: numbers, abstractions, sensations, beliefs, attitudes, obligations, meanings, thoughts, reason. The only unity here is that nobody can see any material foundations for these categories. The naturalist's task is to find piecemeal ways to achieve exactly that."

Hmm. If nobody can find any material foundations for these things, then does it make sense to continue to try to fit a square peg into a round hole? Especially when one recognizes that the peg is square and the hole is round?

Stardusty Psyche said...

David Brightly said...

" What is meant by 'immaterial'? I don't know."
That's because the notion is incoherent, meaningless, and absurd.

" There are whole categories regarded as immaterial: numbers, abstractions, sensations, beliefs, attitudes, obligations, meanings, thoughts, reason. "
Regarded by who? Surly not any rational thinker.

"The only unity here is that nobody can see any material foundations for these categories. "
Wrong, the foundation is obvious. What you list are merely processes of the brain.


March 08, 2017 5:20 AM

William said...

dustie:

"The only unity here is that nobody can see any material foundations for these categories. "
Wrong, the foundation is obvious. What you list are merely processes of the brain.

====

“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

“You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules."

--Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis

-----------------------------

Well, it has all been said earlier and better, but this sort of thing remains a basic category mistake.

David Brightly said...

Well, it may be that the peg isn't quite as square as it seems and the hole not so round, as I suggested above at March 02, 2017 6:51 AM.

Another example: I missed intentionality, often seen as 'the mark of the mental' from my list. It's clear to me that there is 'animal intentionality' in an animal chasing down prey or plucking a fruit from a tree. Information from the senses leads to appropriate movement in the muscles. Why can't this be a basis for human intentionality expressed in language? I don't see a sharp dividing line between the one as purely material and the other as immaterial.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

Well, if one redefines the "material" to include anything and everything, including everything on your list, then of course the "material" is all there is.

However, it seems that the generally accepted definition of a material object since Descartes has been an object that has extension in 3 dimensional space. If one includes the items on your list as material objects, one needs to explain where in 3 dimensional space they reside. For instance where does 42 reside?

David Brightly said...

I haven't offered a definition of 'the material'. I take it to be understood. I say that the items on my list simply aren't objects, so the question of their materiality or otherwise does not arise. Regarding 42, my suggestion is that it should be seen as a movement. A vector in the jargon. Choose any line in space; choose an arbitrary point on the line; call this 0; choose a direction away from 0 and a unit of length; call 1 a movement of the unit length in the chosen direction; call 2 the movement 1 followed by another such movement; call 3 the movement 2 followed by 1; and so on; eventually we get to 42; addition is composition of movements. Is 42 material? Is it immaterial? It has extension in space, sort of. Does it matter?

bmiller said...

" I say that the items on my list simply aren't objects, so the question of their materiality or otherwise does not arise."

Well of course, the real question is whether the items on the list exist at all. If they exist then I do think the question arises. I'm curious why you think it does not.

Regarding 42 being a vector. It seems you are measuring in "Brightly" units. In "bmiller" units that vector is not 42, but 21 :-). But if 42 is a vector, can there be 42 apples? 42 ideas? 42, the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything?

Stardusty Psyche said...

William said...


"The only unity here is that nobody can see any material foundations for these categories. "
SP Wrong, the foundation is obvious. What you list are merely processes of the brain.

====

" Well, it has all been said earlier and better, but this sort of thing remains a basic category mistake.

Right, the word "immaterial" is in the catagory of vague, confused, and ultimately meaningless words.

Francis Crick said it well indeed, and said it very meaningfully.

So, the word "material" is in the catagory of meaningful words.
The word "immaterial" is in the catagory of meaningless words.


March 09, 2017 3:31 AM

Stardusty Psyche said...

David Brightly said...
" the items on my list simply aren't objects,"
Is "running" and object? Is "running" material or immaterial?

" Is 42 material? "
Numbers do not exist as objects, they are a brain process.


March 09, 2017 4:08 PM

David Brightly said...

We've already said the line and origin can be arbitrary. So can the unit length. We can also abandon the requirement that the line be straight and the steps equal sized. What are we left with? A sequence of points in space. Switch to a sequence of moments in time. What have we got? A child learning to count. What's 42? The place between 41 and 43. That's all it has to be. An element of a possible patterning of matter or of change in matter, or of change in change in matter,..., that we have the neural equipment to recognise. Is this material or immaterial? Kind of both. This suggests that the material/immaterial dichotomy is too coarse to capture reality, despite its apparent grammatical or indeed logical completeness. Think of a wave on water again. A wave doesn't transport a chunk of matter from one side of the lake to another. So it's not exactly a material object. Yet it does consist of matter transiently in motion, in a patterned way. Perhaps we should just say that it's a phenomenon based in or made possible by matter and space and time.

Stardusty Psyche said...

David Brightly said...

" Is this material or immaterial? Kind of both."
No, numbers are a brain process. The word "immaterial" is meaningless.

" This suggests that the material/immaterial dichotomy is too coarse to capture reality,"
Right, reality is not captured by a choice between a meaningful word "material" and a meaningless word "immaterial". To capture reality we omit the meaningless word and use only the meaningful word "material".

" Think of a wave on water again. A wave doesn't transport a chunk of matter from one side of the lake to another. So it's not exactly a material object. Yet it does consist of matter transiently in motion, in a patterned way. Perhaps we should just say that it's a phenomenon based in or made possible by matter and space and time."
A water wave is a material process, like a thought, a number, an abstraction, a dance, or any sort of motion.


March 11, 2017 9:34 AM

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

A couple of things.

We can think of 42 as a sequence of anything including, points that are not material objects at all. So although 42 may be instantiated in a collection of material or immaterial objects, how could it exist as a collection of both classes if it was purely material?

" Is this material or immaterial? Kind of both."
So maybe you are saying that at the deepest level, it is difficult to determine the material from the immaterial?

Stardusty Psyche said...

bmiller said...

" So maybe you are saying that at the deepest level, it is difficult to determine the material from the immaterial?"

Distinguishing between the 2 is a simple matter of realizing that "material" is a meaningful word, whereas "immaterial" is a nonsense term.

Throw away the nonsense term as being useless and you will have succeeded in making the determination.


March 11, 2017 11:28 AM

Hal said...

"Immaterial" means not material. If is certainly not a nonsense term.
Dammit stardusty but you make atheists look like idiots. :-(

Stardusty Psyche said...

Hal said...

" "Immaterial" means not material. If is certainly not a nonsense term."

That's what makes it a nonsense term.

"immaterial" = "non-stuff stuff"

How could anything exist that was not material? If it is not made of something then it is absolutely nothing at all and there is no "it". No sort of "it" can be absolutely nothing at all. It some thing exists it is a thing, some thing, something. Else it is no thing, nothing, and does not exist, and there is no "it" to speak of.

The very word "immaterial" is incoherent and utterly meaningless.


" Dammit stardusty but you make atheists look like idiots. :-("
In what way? What are you even trying to say?

I am an idiot then? Ok, fine, Hal, please do give me a definition and an example of an "immaterial" thing, or existence, or object, or stuff, or whatever.


March 11, 2017 2:34 PM

Hal said...

You are confusing the meaning of a word with its referent.

David Brightly said...

Is it difficult to determine the material from the immaterial? No, that's starting to look like panpsychism, which surely can't be right. Surveying the gamut of living things it seems you must have a complicated nervous system to have mindedness, not just more of it.

One of the problems we face is that our language forces the noun-verb structure on us. If the nouns denote things, and some of these things are clearly not material objects, then it seems there is a prima facie case for the category of 'immaterial things'. I reject this as too simplistic and ultimately a claim I can't make sense of. What can I offer instead? Well, I keep harping on about movement and patterns of movement. Movements and patterns aren't material things. Are they immaterial things then? No, they just aren't things at all! They don't, as it were, lie anywhere along the material--immaterial dimension. Trouble is, just to talk about movement and pattern it's very hard to avoid the very general category of 'thing'. I say this is a linguistic business, not an ontological issue. Surely the world can be regular and patterned without there being objects called 'regularity' and 'pattern' in some Platonic heaven? This is the old, old debate between realists and nominalists with regard to universals. No point in going there, but suffice it to say that nominalism is an open option. What I'm asking everyone to do is to allow that there can be pattern and regularity in material nature that we as material things can recognise, and that an account of this recognition might be given in the terms of the physical sciences without reference to any realm of 'immaterial objects'.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Hal said...

" You are confusing the meaning of a word with its referent."

You are confusing an inherently self contradictory word with a meaningful word.

Is the word "stufflessstuff" meaningful? If so, what does it mean?

At least with a mythological term such as "god" or "unicorn" we can hold out the sliver of hope that perhaps someplace out in the universe there is some creature made of some as yet undiscovered stuff that can do things we did not think possible, just as we cannot disprove Russel's teapot in orbit.

Not so with "immaterial" or "stufflessstuff". These are simply self contradictory terms, and thus incoherent. The only meaning they have is that humans sometimes speak gibberish from time to time.


March 12, 2017 6:51 AM

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

"Surely the world can be regular and patterned without there being objects called 'regularity' and 'pattern' in some Platonic heaven?"

Of course there are more options to a "Platonic heaven" that preserve the existence of universals. Moderate or immanent realism is one such option.

It seems odd for all of us to recognize that there are really patterns/forms that exist, are not made of matter ("They don't, as it were, lie anywhere along the material--immaterial dimension.") and for us to "say this is a linguistic business, not an ontological issue."

I realize that you also said they weren't "immaterial", but aren't you then positing something like a "Brightly heaven"? A realm of "linguistic business" in which neither the material or immaterial reside.

David Brightly said...

This is a familiar problem with universals, isn't it? Does 'justice exists' mean there are instances of justice, or does it mean there is some thing called 'justice'? This is an ambiguity of language. My interpretation is always the first option.

The 'linguistic business' is the noun--verb Procrustean bed which forces us to think in terms of things. I think it's significant that the physical sciences take off when they abandon natural language as a descriptive medium and turn to mathematics.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

"Does 'justice exists' mean there are instances of justice, or does it mean there is some thing called 'justice'? This is an ambiguity of language. My interpretation is always the first option."

Not sure what you mean here. If there are instances of 'justice' they are just instantiations of the same idea of 'justice'. But if they are truly unique unrelated instances then they should not all be called 'justice', right?

"I think it's significant that the physical sciences take off when they abandon natural language as a descriptive medium and turn to mathematics."

I disagree that the physical sciences abandon natural language as a descriptive medium. Do mathematics abandon natural language?

David Brightly said...

I'm afraid the nominalism is part and parcel with this line of thought. It has no room for contact with immaterial entities. The key claim is the one given above: there can be pattern and regularity in material nature that we as material things can recognise, and that an account of this recognition might be given in the terms of the physical sciences without reference to any realm of 'immaterial objects'.

Well, I don't see a noun--verb or noun--adjective structure in the sentences (if they be sentences) of mathematical physics, eg, Maxwell's equations.

Stardusty Psyche said...

David Brightly said...

" I'm afraid the nominalism is part and parcel with this line of thought. It has no room for contact with immaterial entities. "

Immaterial entity is an oxymoronic term, thus meaningless, merely a fuzzy headed foggy notion of something that is not some thing.


March 13, 2017 4:23 AM

bmiller said...

"The key claim is the one given above: there can be pattern and regularity in material nature that we as material things can recognise, and that an account of this recognition might be given in the terms of the physical sciences without reference to any realm of 'immaterial objects'."

So do the patterns and regularity we perceive in nature really exist, or are they nothing more than a mental organization and have no necessary correspondence the world of reality? I believe this is one form of nominalism.


From your link:
Maxwell–Faraday equation (Faraday's law of induction)
This listed under the header "Meaning"
"The voltage induced in a closed circuit is proportional to the rate of change of the magnetic flux it encloses."

So isn't mathematical notation merely a shorthand for natural language?

David Brightly said...

Sometimes one, sometimes the other. We think we have two eyes and it seems that we do. At least, we get an explanation of depth of vision from two-ness of eyes. On the other hand, I can see a tree root in poor light and think it's a snake. Pattern recognition can make mistakes. But perhaps that's a scientific answer to a philosophical question.

What are voltage in a circuit and magnetic flux enclosed by it? The circuit can be an arbitrary closed loop in space, not necessarily a physical conductor. So though physical, these aren't objects. But that's the interpretation of the integral equation. I'd be interested to know what you make of the differential equation!

Stardusty Psyche said...

David Brightly said...

"The circuit can be an arbitrary closed loop in space, not necessarily a physical conductor."
Wrong, an electrical circuit of moving charged particles is a physical process necessarily.


" So though physical, these aren't objects. "
Oxymoronic language.


"But that's the interpretation of the integral equation."
Maxwell's equations are useful approximations, sometimes called the classical model. Modern physics shows that Maxwell was wrong, in a similar way that Einstein showed Newton was wrong.

" I'd be interested to know what you make of the differential equation!"
The differential versus the integral forms of Maxwell's equations are inverse functions of each other.


March 16, 2017 3:03 AM

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

"On the other hand, I can see a tree root in poor light and think it's a snake. Pattern recognition can make mistakes. But perhaps that's a scientific answer to a philosophical question."

Not if you had your night vision goggles on :-). But it seems you've answered the philosophical question too, right? One could have faulty perception and therefore a false view of reality, but the mental state reflects reality when the perception is not faulty if I read you correctly. Doesn't nominalism hold that "tree roots" are only a mental classification in our mind that doesn't reflect reality?

I don't think 'the curl of the electric field is proportional to the rate of change of the magnetic field.' abandons natural language. But perhaps you mean that many physicists mistake the mathematics they use in their craft for reality itself. I don't doubt that.

David Brightly said...

I think a nominalist would say that there are tree roots without 'tree root' denoting some thing that all tree roots have in common.  That alone makes a tree root more than a purely mental phenomenon.

Well,  that would be natural language augmented with the term 'the electric field'  denoting a very strange natural 'object'  pervading all space and time that nobody who ever spoke a natural language had ever encountered before.

bmiller said...

I think a nominalist would say that there are tree roots without 'tree root' denoting some thing that all tree roots have in common. That alone makes a tree root more than a purely mental phenomenon.

Yes perhaps, but that still makes each one unintelligible in the end. I think we are extremely fortunate that science didn't take nominalist philosophy seriously until perhaps recently.


Well, that would be natural language augmented with the term 'the electric field' denoting a very strange natural 'object' pervading all space and time that nobody who ever spoke a natural language had ever encountered before.

I guess Maxwell considered it at least something real. It does account for some physical phenomenon if indeed material reality exists. But tomorrow we may have a different theory of electromagnetism and electric fields will go the way of aether.

Stardusty Psyche said...

bmiller said...

" I guess Maxwell considered it at least something real. It does account for some physical phenomenon if indeed material reality exists. But tomorrow we may have a different theory of electromagnetism and electric fields will go the way of aether."

We don't have to wait until tomorrow, since the follow on theories to Maxwell can be found in ordinary college textbooks, relativity and quantum mechanics.

Maxwell used continuous wave models (unlike QM) and he had no solution for the constancy of the speed of light irrespective of the velocity of the source or observer (Einstein later provided a model to solve that problem).

I am not here to slam your obvious lack of science education, since there are many who know more than I, and even if I were somehow the most knowledgeable that alone would not guarantee I was correct. Besides, it would be ungracious to do so in any event.

However, given your obvious lack of education it becomes incumbent upon you to follow arguments carefully and methodically, researching the scientific and logical claims made at each step. So far you have displayed precious little inclination to do so.


March 19, 2017 1:45 PM

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

Well perhaps we can chat again sometime when the trolls aren't watching.

It is too bad though that Quantum Field Theory did away with electric and magnetic fields.
Maybe someone should tell these guys.

David Brightly said...

That still makes each one unintelligible in the end I kind of agree with you. I'd say something like this: The starting point for Aristotelian science is the everyday, common sense, human picture of the world. To make the classification of ordinary things intelligible it invents essences. Democritean science, on the other hand, starts with atoms. Pattern in arrangement of atoms is an explanatory resource available to the Democritean that the Aristotelian lacks. Of course, there is a kind of essentialism inherent in there being 90-odd types of atom. This gets explained by the essential properties of protons, neutrons, and electrons, say. I like to think of the progress of natural science as explanation through increasing numbers of individuals of decreasing numbers of kinds.

Fear not! The EM field is still with us in the Standard Model of particle physics, in the form of the photon.

bmiller said...

@David Brightly,

"This gets explained by the essential properties of protons, neutrons, and electrons, say. I like to think of the progress of natural science as explanation through increasing numbers of individuals of decreasing numbers of kinds."

This is kind of what I'm getting at. A scientist conceives of classes of things that have the same essential properties. A nominalist would deny there are classes of things wouldn't he?

Also, wouldn't a pure Democritean run into trouble when antimatter is introduced and matter transforms to energy?


"Fear not! The EM field is still with us in the Standard Model of particle physics, in the form of the photon.

Yes, I guess my attempt to subtley poke fun at the resident crank was a bit too subtle. The link in that comment was to an invention that allows wireless charging of electronic devices by use of a magnetic field. After all the subject of Quantum field theory is electromagnetic fields.

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