• Uber
    147
    They are real in the sense of being useful mental thoughts and abstractions, which come from the human mind, which works through the bulk interactions of billions of neurons, which need energy flows in the form of electrochemical gradients to move and communicate through electrical signals.

    They are real in the sense that humans have written symbols for them, and these symbols appear in tests, books, product manuals, internet forums, and a million other places.

    So they are real in these different ways, and in all these ways they have material causes.

    What's the alternative? They sit on some magical Platonic realm beyond the natural world?
  • Wayfarer
    6k
    What's the alternative? They sit on some magical Platonic realm beyond the natural world?Uber

    Number is real, in that it is the same for anyone who can count. The same for the law of identity, the law of excluded middle, and logical laws generally. In that sense, they are constitutive of reality, in the sense that they are inextricably intertwined with how we interpret experience. But current culture has methodically developed a way to ignore the philosophical implications of this fact - one of which is by declaring that they must, therefore, inhabit ‘some magical realm’.

    What this doesn’t see, is that the notion of ‘realm’ in this context, is allegorical, but real nonetheless. For example, there really is a ‘domain of natural numbers’, but because of the way modern naturalism construes the world, there is no way to understand what that actually means, short of asking ‘where is it? Some “magical kingdom”? The answer is, no, it’s real on a different level to the reality of empirical objects. But in current culture, there are no different levels; the vertical dimension that was understood by classical philosophy, has been ‘flattened’. That is one of the main consequences, or the main consequence, of scientific materialism and the medieval nominalism that it inherited, which can be clearly demonstrated on historical grounds.

    So the response is, to internalise such things or subjectivise them, so as to say that such elements are ‘a product of the brain’. And as neurobiology is so vastly complicated, this tucks the whole thing safely into the vast domain of ‘questions which science can’t now answer, but will one day’ - what Karl Popper called ‘promissory materialism’. But what that then doesn’t come to terms with, is Kant’s ‘synthetic a priori’ - why it is that we can use mathematical reasoning to discover things that we otherwise would never know [which has been spectacularly demonstrated by mathematical physics, so vividly portrayed by Eugene Wigner in his famous essay on The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.]

    Anyway, this is by way of drawing a distinction. All of this [mainly uninformed] chatter about ‘how things originated’ has completely lost sight of the original formulation of that problem in the Western philosophical tradition. This is what leads to the inane suggestion that ‘something must have created God’ - and you don’t have to be ‘a theist’ to understand why; it’s simply definitional.

    The dialogue concerning the origin of things, was originally about trying to distinguish the transient, the ephemeral, from the real. The Platonist tradition had a way of going about that discussion, to which Parmenides and the subsequent commentary was central. But it was in that context that the distinction began to be grasped between understanding the principles of things - their logoi, the reason why they existed - and the things themselves - in short, the distinction between reality and appearance. And one of the principles that was discovered was that such explanatory principles as reason and mathematical logic, belonged to a different order than did the objects of sense. That was encapsulated in the Platonic epistemology of the Republic, the ‘allegory of the divided line’, and the famous ‘parable of the Cave’.

    In the last several centuries, this has largely been completely forgotten - to the point where it is even no longer remembered what has been forgotten. Which is ironic, as it is actually one of the fundamental sources of Western scientific culture.

    Now it can be cogently argued that the Christian doctrine of ‘the Creator’ was amalgamated with the Greek tradition of philosophical rationalism under duress, and that really the Greeks would not have entertained such an idea had they been left to their own devices. [That is another big topic in its own right but it’s worth recalling that Christians closed the Platonic academy and also burned the neo-Platonist library of Alexandria]. So in more recent history, the effect is that whole way of understanding has now become associated with religious ideology and mainly abandoned on those grounds.

    But the traditional problems of philosophy don’t ever really go away. They simply come back in new guises.
  • Janus
    5.2k


    The creator is no-thing, and so came from no-thing.
  • Michael
    6.5k
    More generally, I find it hard to imagine anything more necessary than the universe.andrewk

    What exists in every possible world and so is necessary? The world.
  • Uber
    147
    Wayfarer:

    You seem to have a rather uncritical assessment of Western philosophy, almost as if it's a repository of lost and incorruptible knowledge that we all need to rediscover. I don't share your optimism.

    As a result, I think you reach many false conclusions in this particular post. You have made a distinction between reality on the one hand and a collection of things on the other: appearance, "explanatory principles," and mathematics. I think this distinction is untenable, because these apparent principles and ideas are indeed products of the human mind interacting with the external world. What is the human mind, along with its thoughts and feelings, except the product of the external world? The abstractions of the human mind do have material causes; these are the causes responsible for our brain interacting with the natural world. Some of these abstractions express useful meaning about the physical content of reality, such as size, quantity, etc. Hence our ancestors, having a large cerebral cortex capable of many different tasks, eventually came up with numbers.

    Math, logic, numbers -- these are emergent properties of the natural world. They are emergent in the sense that they have been created by the brain through successive interactions with the outside world. And once they emerge, they are extremely useful in helping to describe the natural world. They become no less special just because they emerge from the brain interacting with the external world; they can still accurately describe the world, when used the right way. In this sense, I would agree that they are "intertwined with how we interpret experience," because our very real experiences helped produce these things in the first place.

    But I do not understand a phrase like "constitutive of reality." Do you mean that because the rules of logic are always true, for example, then they are effectively embedded within reality itself and hence never began to exist (by what I assume is some fancy analogy with God)? If so, there's a lot of jargon there you can unpack for us if you wish to explain what you mean.

    What makes math and logic so effective? This is a complicated question that is perhaps beyond the scope of our debate. I'll give my two cents, but I want to first mention how this question obscures the many ways in which math is not effective. We know that the simplest systems in math cannot be reduced to formal logic courtesy of Godel. Many mathemtical formulas are differential equations that cannot be solved analytically; instead numerical approximations are required. These answers can still be accurate and reliable; they're just not analytical solutions. In many situations, scientific investigations are better off starting with critical thought and imagination. Before Einstein unleashed the mathematical machinery of tensors and metrics, he used simple thought experiments about the behavior of light in accelerating reference frames. Critical thinking can help mediate the application of math to solve problems related to natural phenomena. Point being: there are limits to how far math alone can get you.

    Ok, so then why are math and logic so useful and effective, generally speaking? I think the answer to this question, whatever it is, cannot be separated from what we believe constitutes truthful statements. In other words, any answer to that question will have implications about a theory of truth. If you believe in the correspondence theory, then math and logic are useful and effective because logical and mathematical statements correspond to events and interactions that we observe happening in reality. This makes logic both true and a product of human experience. If you believe in subjective theories, you may say they are useful because they confirm subjective beliefs about the world. There are plenty of other options as well. This is an entirely different debate in its own right, but perhaps an unavoidable one.

    What conclusions can we draw from all of this? On your accounting, numbers and math seem to be somehow encoded into the very fabric of reality. If human beings use math and reach wrong conclusions about the world, then that's not a problem with reality, it's a problem with how humans interpret an embedded and eternal feature of reality. But then again, how can the human mind, which is apparently infused with these eternal and unphysical elements, ever reach the wrong conclusions about them? Could it be that the physical parts are screwing up our understanding of the unphysical parts? Descartes and Elisabeth all over again. And how are these unphysical elements embedded in or "constitutive" of reality? Who knows, they just are.

    You undermine your own position from the very first sentence:

    Number is real, in that it is the same for anyone who can count.

    Ergo, the existence of numbers requires the prior existence of people who can count, who can have the intelligence to come up with counting, who had the right evolutionary and ecological circumstances in which counting could be useful, etc.

    But the traditional problems of philosophy don't ever really go away. They simply come back in new guises.

    These are problems that have mostly been resolved in modern philosophy. What you meant to say is that people online often regurgitate bad philosophical arguments from the past, hoping to enlighten a world that has forgotten nature only has four elements and that motion is illusory because it contradicts the rules of logic.
  • Rank Amateur
    71
    In context of this conversation, necessary being has a specific meaning. It means its existence in not contingent on anything else. Rock are contingent.
  • Rank Amateur
    71
    right up until the point it does not. If you regress the contingency of anything, long enough - it always leads to the same point. And that point always is.

    1. All that is, always was. the universe is not finite - but circular - it has no beginning
    the who created the creator argument

    (which my limited understanding of the current science says is not the case)

    or

    2. The universe was finite. there was nothing, and then there was everything.

    If 2 is correct:

    An un-created creator, or a necessary being is a reasonable explanation of it.

    the other alternative is - it is not an un-created creator, we don't know what it is,
    but we have faith that our science will understand it at some point.

    this just elevating science to religion.
  • SherlockH
    73
    I do wonder if there is one. I have had odd stuff happen in the past so I do believe in ghosts. As a child I did pray but jesus or God never really awnsered any prayer or talked back. So i figured it was made up. However if supernatural things can happen, what role does god play. Also how does one scientifically explain all the huantings, possessions and supernatural events that have ever happened in history?
  • Wayfarer
    6k
    You seem to have a rather uncritical assessment of Western philosophy, almost as if it's a repository of lost and incorruptible knowledge that we all need to rediscover. I don't share your optimism.Uber

    Thanks for your thorough reply.

    My view is that the mainstream of Western philosophy is not materialist, but that it's been hijacked by materialism, at least to some extent.

    And Platonist philosophy is critical through and through - it wants us to question everything we normally take for granted. (That what was what Enlightenment materialism set out to do also, until it discovered the spooky nature of the purported 'ultimate constituents of reality', something which really hasn't been resolved.)

    I think this distinction [between numbers, scientific laws, and phenomena] is untenable, because these apparent principles and ideas are indeed products of the human mind interacting with the external world.Uber

    But this begs the question - you're assuming that number is 'product of the mind interacting with the external world', when this is precisely one of the points at issue. In what sense is the world 'external'? When we measure and count, even though the specific objects in question are external to us, the intellectual process of measurement and counting, through which we conduct the analysis, is inextricably part of the process (which is precisely the import of the 'measurement problem'). What makes mathematical abilities predictive? Why is it that novel discoveries can be made on the basis of mathematical reasoning? If number were 'internal to the mind', then how would that work? (This is what's behind the problem of the 'synthetic a priori'.) These are all very difficult questions, I know, and I'm not asking them in order to provide an answer, but to try and draw attention to the way in which the original question is difficult in a way that is generally not understood.

    This is an entirely different debate in its own right, but perhaps an unavoidable one.Uber

    I appreciate that, and I know I have steered the thread in an odd direction - but there's a reason for that, which is that I'm trying to situate it in the context of traditional metaphysics, which sees the 'rational intellect' as being a fundamental spiritual principle.

    You undermine your own position from the very first sentence:

    "Number is real, in that it is the same for anyone who can count."

    Ergo, the existence of numbers requires the prior existence of people who can count, who can have the intelligence to come up with counting, who had the right evolutionary and ecological circumstances in which counting could be useful, etc.
    Uber

    Not so. Were rational beings to evolve in any possible world, then they would make at least some of the same discoveries. (Which is why Carl Sagan stuck the plaque to the Pioneer spacecraft.) We evolve to the point where we can discover such things, but the things we discover aren't necessarily the product of evolution. (For which, see an excellent Thomas Nagel essay, now happily reproduced online, Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion.)

    These are problems that have mostly been resolved in modern philosophyUber

    I really don't think so. It's more a matter of changing the scope of the discipline in such a way that such questions are either avoided, or framed in such a way as to not to call into question the underlying naturalism of the secular academy.
  • andrewk
    1.2k
    In context of this conversation, necessary being has a specific meaning. It means its existence in not contingent on anything else. Rock are contingent.Rank Amateur
    That's different from the SEP definition, but that's fine, let's go with that. In that case we just move from rocks to the universe. The universe is a necessary being. Its existence cannot be contingent on anything else because there is nothing else.

    This viewpoint is compatible with both theism and atheism, as well as with all sorts of interesting mixtures thereof. Since the universe is all that IS, it includes god or gods, if they exist, since to exist is to BE, and IS is just the third-person singular conjugation of BE.

    There are more mystical conceptions of God in which she transcends existence. But in that case she is not a being, and hence not a necessary being, so discussing whether there's a God that isn't a being is a different discussion to this one.
  • Uber
    147
    Wayfarer:

    The "mainstream" of philosophy changes over time, because philosophy is not a heavy stone fixed in place. What used to be mainstream 2,000 years no longer is, and that's a good thing in many ways. Arguments are analyzed, they fall out of style, the times change, philosophy improves. Naturalism represents progress in the sense that it describes the world more accurately than any alternative worldview. That does not mean it is faultless, although we will disagree on where the faults lie. For example, I don't like that materialism has very often become a justification for the continued expansion of capitalism, as a kind of rudimentary explanation for the conquest of nature (ie. the more we know about nature, the more we can exploit her resources for our gain, ignoring the consequences along the way).

    The human body and the rest of nature are an integrated, coevolving system. That includes the mind as well. But to say anything useful about either the mind or nature, we need some level of basic metaphysical abstraction. Some way of separating things into system and surroundings. This is simply an emergent way of thinking about a natural world that would otherwise be too complicated to describe. The intellectual process that analyzes the world is itself an emergent property of the world, with different features and capacities than the rest of the world, but still fundamentally material in nature. If I cool a bunch of helium atoms and get a crazy state of nature called superfluidity, which is about as bizarre as conscious experience, I don't then conclude that superfluidity itself is an embedded feature of reality. Emergence is the key philosophical concept to addressing almost all of the questions you are posing.

    Mathematical tools are not always predictive or useful, as I mentioned in the previous post. In other words, mathematics is not always the best window into the heart of the physical world. Sometimes intuition and abstraction can work better. Refer to the examples I provided.

    If discoveries like numbers and logic are not the products of conscious experience, then what are they the necessary products of? God? Spirituality? How convenient. The beings in those other worlds would discover logic and numbers for the same reasons: they are useful methods of emergent thinking. They are the rational product of the human mind interacting with other people and the rest of the natural world.

    Naturalism should be analyzed, scrutinized, and criticized. This coming from a naturalist. But Plato and Aristotle had their day, said a lot of dumb stuff, and now we've moved on.
  • Wayfarer
    6k
    If discoveries like numbers and logic are not the products of conscious experience, then what are they the necessary products of? God? Spirituality? How convenient.Uber

    Emphatically not. The sole point I'm making here, is that number is real, but not material. Because everything we nowadays think, and most of what you argue, is premised on the assumption that everything real is material, then this deflates that claim.

    The same goes for 'scientific laws'. What is their nature? When did they start to work? Do they have a point of origin? Those are not scientific questions, as such, as science begins by assuming those laws. This is often subject to debate on this forum, and whilst I don't have any claim that I have a definitive answer to their ontological status, I am completely confident that, whatever their status is, is not a question for physicalism as such, but is by definition meta-physical.

    Furthermore, I am of the view that mathematics surpasses rational explanation - mathematics before science. Nowadays, evolutionary naturalists simply assume that such abilities are adaptions, as if that explains them. But I don't accept that evolutionary biology explains mathematics. Once you're in the domain of reason and mathematics, then you're no longer functioning in strictly biological terms - you've transcended the biological. (I do understand that this is a minority view.)

    Naturalism represents progress in the sense that it describes the world more accurately than any alternative worldview.Uber

    Of course, Steve Pinker and his ilk will say that this is all there is to philosophy. And actually, I really do believe in the idea of progress, liberal economics, scientific invention and the rest. But do note, there are millions of denizens of the first-world economies in which such values hold sway, that nevertheless can't find enough of value or meaning in life to go on with existing. So there's a gap, a lack, an absence, which no amount of invention can ever fill; and that lack is spiritual in nature. Which is what philosophy seeks to address, and, if possible, to remedy.

    (Also, a hint on forum usage - if you want to register that you have replied to another's post, copy a snippet and then click the 'quote' icon that appears - which indicates to the other poster that he or she has a reply by putting a number next to the 'You' menu item.)
  • Uber
    147


    Ok so the point you are making, in your own words, is that numbers are "real, but not material." I do appreciate that you didn't fall back on an easy crutch of God or The Force to explain the source of our intellect! Now I think all of this is more interesting.

    I know you said you didn't have an answer to a lot of these issues, but if you had to speculate, then in what sense is something real and not material? A related question: just what is materiality to you? Are thoughts material things? I know how I would answer these questions, but I want to know what you think.

    Science is a complicated social and economic enterprise that does many things and reaches many conclusions, some right and some wrong. And although it must use some level of metaphysical abstraction to relate its various ideas, that does not mean that the things being described are not material. Nor does it mean that the metaphysical concepts are not real; they are just not real in the way you claim. They don't sit there and hover above physical interactions in the real world, ready to infuse those interactions with agency. If this is what you actually believe, then we are just rearguing Descartes and Elisabeth from 400 years ago. So I would ask you a modified version of what she asked him: how can the metaphysical concepts push around and influence the physical parts of reality, without obeying the same causal principles? Against this muddled line of argument, we have the alternative that metaphysical concepts are real in the sense that they represent mental thoughts and conscious states produced by neural networks in the brain. These conscious states are useful developments, they provide relational categories for the complicated phenomena in nature. Thus metaphysical concepts are real, material, and emergent, but only in the physical context of the brain interacting with the wider world.

    I understand your position on mathematics, but do you recognize any limitations to mathematical thinking? Or is math just perfect and has no loopholes whatsoever? This is an important point, because if it does have deficiencies or loopholes (and it obviously does), then it's strong evidence that math is the product of the brain, which evolved a wide array of abilities. Some of those abilities are useful when attempting to accurately describe the world, others are not.

    We are obviously not going to agree on the ideal solution to the problem of universals on a debate online, largely because I can already tell our fundamental assumptions on the issue are very different. But a hard realist position is virtually impossible to defend successfully, and this debate is revealing that result all too clearly.

    I agree about the importance of philosophy and critical thinking. We need more of these things in modern society. For me personally, the ontological foundations of materialism are powerful and can explain a lot about the state of the world. Emergence, scaling, criticality, collective interactions, and so much more; all beautiful ideas that really help ground and make sense of the material nature of the world. Most people don't care about this stuff though. When they think of scientific materialism and its cousin "scientific progress," they mean things like economic growth, technological innovation, the latest iPhone, etc. Pinker and the others like him are basically defending capitalism, not the Enlightenment. But I am not surprised that this happened: all popular doctrines of one kind or another are eventually absorbed by the wider economic system and become justifications for the class hierarchies and labor relations that prevail within that system.

    I disagree that people are sad and depressed because of a spiritual gap. To me what people have fundamentally lost with the rise of capitalism in the last two centuries is their social bonds, attachments, and relationships. These have been largely 'replaced' by a cornucopia of material goods, which have become the source of 'value' in life. But of course they can never fully replace the fundamental social needs we have, so people still keep yearning for something else. What we lack and need more of is fundamentally social (and thus has a material remedy), not spiritual.
  • Wayfarer
    6k
    I know you said you didn't have an answer to a lot of these issues, but if you had to speculate, then in what sense is something real and not material? A related question: just what is materiality to you? Are thoughts material things? I know how I would answer these questions, but I want to know what you think.Uber

    Excellent - I think we have found some common ground at least.

    In answer to your question - I like to think that I once had a kind of minor epiphany along these lines: Numbers are real because they're common to all who are capable of grasping them. You can't make up your own values for them; 3 = 3 for everyone. Early arithmetic, from the various cultures, had to grapple with ways of representing number, as is well known. But over the centuries, this became global. We don't now have Arabic or Japanese or American maths, which indicates its universality. So broadly speaking, I'm in the 'number is discovered, not invented' camp (with the caveat that once numbers are discovered, then all manner of systems can be invented using them.)

    But the crucial point I noticed at that time was that numbers don't begin to exist; they're not composed of parts; and they're universal. (Later I realised that the "not composed of parts" only pertains to primes, but never mind.) Whereas, everything in the material world - "all phenomena" - are composed of parts and begin and end in time. (Try and think of any phenomenal object that doesn't conform to those criteria.)

    So at the time I had this realisation, I thought I had stumbled onto why, for the ancient Greeks, numbers were of a higher order than phenomena; they're not bound by time, or composed of parts, but they're real. And that's why I think that Plato believed them to be of a higher order of reality. (See The Analogy of the Divided Line.)

    Over time, I have filled this out a little. I have begun to understand that the same kinds of things can be said about the domain of logical laws and that this extends to the domain of conventions and rules. So this all pertains to what classical philosophy used to understand as "the formal domain".

    Hence we get to:

    Nor does it mean that the metaphysical concepts are not real; they are just not real in the way you claim. They don't sit there and hover above physical interactions in the real world, ready to infuse those interactions with agency.Uber

    I'm not saying that, but I think it's inevitable that it will be interpreted this way. But what I'm calling "the formal domain" is logically (indeed ontologically) prior to the phenomenal domain (hence, the source of the a priori.) But it's not "out there somewhere", and numbers don't "do" anything. Even so, the intellects' ability to count and measure, gives it predictive traction with respect to the domain of phenomena (which is why this way of understanding was one of the sources of science).

    So I came to think that number is real in a different way to phenomena - it is of an implicit or subsistent order of things, which precedes and informs the phenomenal domain. And through that, I began to understand the meaning of universals (See the brief discussion in Problems of Philosophy.)

    Medieval nominalism overturned the traditionalist understanding of universals - that's what the whole debate was about - and today we have largely inherited the nominalist attitude. So there's no place for that "formal realm" to be, as far as we're concerned. There is no provision for something being real in a different way to the reality of phenomena: "existence" is univocal, in that, for modern philosophy, something either exists or it doesn't. So tables and the number 2 exist; unicorns and the square root of 2 do not. Whereas I would like to say that the mode of the existence of number is different to the mode of the existence of phenomena - that number doesn't actually exist, but it is real nonetheless (which is why I brought the ontological status of numbers into the debate in the first place).

    But nowadays, we can only ever think of what is real in terms of what is "out there" - we have a one-dimensional understanding, everything has been "flattened" to the "domain of phenomena"; that is what scientific materialism entails. (On another forum, it was described as M-E-S-T: Matter-Energy-Space-Time - by one of its advocates.)

    So - this is the sense in which number and the rational operations of the intellect are transcendent - because they are assumed in the act of scientific analysis, but are not consciously apparent to it. They are constituents, but not objects, of the understanding (which is an insight ultimately derived from Kant).

    If this is what you actually believe, then we are just rearguing Descartes and Elisabeth from 400 years ago.Uber

    Well, a lot of the modern issues started with Descartes. His "model" introduced the concept of res cogitans as "something that exists" (thereby implicitly locating it in the phenomenal domain). So he conceptualises it incorrectly (as Husserl cogently argues in his Crisis of the European Sciences). Mind, in the sense I understand it, is transcendent in the same way as the things it grasps are - it's ontologically prior to anything that we assert about existence or non-existence. (Which is why strict materialists like Dennett must argue that it's unreal - there's simply no place for it in their scheme of things, despite the obvious self-contradiction and absurdity that this entails.)

    A principle I learned from non-dualism, is that "mind is never an object of perception" (which, when you think about it, is obvious anyway.) So the idea of conceptualising "mind" as a "spooky substance" is what gave rise to the whole "ghost in the machine" analogy - which is all a dead end as far as I'm concerned. We have to go back and re-trace our steps as to how we got into such a predicament. That's what I'm working on.
  • Uber
    147


    I want to understand and explore your underlying ontology a bit more. According to you, numbers are real because they are common to all "who are capable of grasping them." Furthermore, things do not begin to exist if they cannot be broken down into simpler parts and if they do not begin and end in time. So numbers are universals because they supposedly have no simpler parts and do not start and end in time. But apparently primes are different somehow; care to explain what makes them different in your system from the other numbers? Also, what do you mean when you argue that numbers cannot be decomposed into other parts? That if I express any number in terms of other numbers, I'm still left with numbers? Kind of like a closed set? What about words or letters? Or more universally still, phonemes? Letters seem to be capable of being grasped by all, provided those people are taught the appropriate alphabet. They also don't require decomposition into parts. It seems like they should behave like numbers as far as time goes. Are letters real and not material also?

    Let's also examine logical rules and mathematics in the context of your theory. Can math or logic be broken into parts? For example, the logical foundations of mathematics are commonly said to be found in axiomatic set theory, at its core a collection of 8 axioms about the properties of sets that underlie all mathematical operations. Some mathematicians add a 9th set to this list called the axiom of choice, but others do not. So if math and logic are real universals, capable of being grasped by everyone, is the axiom of choice also a real universal? Another way of putting it: how can the logical foundations of mathematics be real universals when logicians and mathematicians do not agree on what they should be? Also, how do the incompleteness theorems fit into the context of your theory? Do you care at all that not even the simplest mathematical systems can be proven through logical rules? Or is your attitude "well math works sometimes and that's why it comes before science"?

    You talk about the "ability" of the intellect to explain scientific phenomena, implying that this ability precedes and underlies the phenomena themselves. But where does that ability come from? What explains this "a priori" ability of the human intellect? This ability to count numbers and measure things? If this intellect has an explanation through scientific phenomena, which is the central conclusion of modern neuroscience, then clearly it cannot precede them!

    These questions are meant to get you to think hard about your ontology. On the one hand, you connect the reality of numbers to their capacity for being understood. On the other hand, you basically say numbers are things that exist outside of space and time. But how can anything existing outside of space and time be intelligible to people who very much require space and time to understand anything? How are you and I able to understand these apparently real but not material universals through our communication right now? Maybe because we both have internet connections, power plants that provide our homes and devices with electricity, functional brains that can decode electrical signals sent by photoreceptors. You cannot honestly separate the process of understanding from the wider physical conditions of the world. Like Cartesian dualism and the cosmological argument, you're trying to have it both ways: you want to use a material sense of causality to define your special thing (the soul, God, numbers) but you also need to give it immaterial properties to make it special in the first place. So we're stuck in these bizarre mind loops where you ask me to understand concepts that defy understanding. You force yourself into ridiculous implications: numbers have material causal properties, but somehow they are not material.

    As I said before, our underlying ontologies and assumptions about how the world works are very different. Let me begin simply. If we stop breathing oxygen for a prolonged period of time, either because we are forced to or for some other reason, can we do philosophy? How about if we attempt to have no food or drink any water for a whole month? There is no way to have mental abstractions without first obtaining some vital things from the outside world. You can call those things whatever you want (matter, energy, etc) but cannot deny that they are absolutely necessary for the process of thought. This is the most basic way to know there is an external world: our survival is dependent on it. No material preconditions, no more philosophy. To me what you call the "formal domain" is the emergent product of the natural world, acting through billions of years of evolution, millions of social interactions, changing ecological primers, critical economic incentives, and hard political struggles. Rather than Plato, you would be better off getting the ontology of the world from Marx. Then you may realize another epiphany: that the material basis of the world precedes, supersedes, and effectively primes human thought. Right at this very moment, as you read these sentences and disagree with them, the neurons in your memory banks are going off through collective interactions that attempt to recall the basis for your disagreement and your fundamental thoughts on the issue. Descartes should have inverted his dictum: I am, therefore I think.

    By the way, I consider myself a materialist, or naturalist, and I do not agree with Dennet's ideas on consciousness. I very much believe conscious and subconscious mental states are real physical things, as real as the ground beneath me and following the same fundamental interactions of nature. Emergence here too plays a fundamental role in materialist thinking. Consciousness is an exotic state of matter, the macrosystem resulting from bulk and collective interactions between neural clusters arranged the right way after millions of years of evolutionary experience. By analogy, it is an exotic state like superconductivity, which emerges from collective interactions between electrons and atomic ions. Or superfluidity, which may emerge from helium atoms cooled to the right temperatures. These phenomena are so bizarre, so unlike any ordinary experience, that one may be tempted to call them unphysical or immaterial. And yet we know they are the product of special material conditions; they cannot exist apart from those conditions (low temperatures, high pressures, interacting particles, etc). Just wanted to raise this point so that you are aware most materialists do not actually agree with Dennett on consciousness.

    Lastly, I have noticed in this and other threads that you have a very uncritical assessment of the history of philosophy. You talk about things that have been lost, that are not as well understood now as they once were in the past. But the problem of universals was always controversial and hotly debated. Aristotle broke with Plato on this very issue. Medieval philosophers offered wildly different interpretations, some of which were controversial enough that the Vatican intervened through special councils and called them heresies. So I dispute this ideal and misty-eyed notion that philosophy ever had a firm grasp on these issues before modern times. And even in modern times we have our own major controversies, some of which have bern overcome (like the idealist fantasy in Britain or the errors of logical positivism) while others are still a subject of debate (like consciousness).
  • Uber
    147
    We've all had "strange things" happen to us. When I moved into a new house some years ago I heard this weird noise coming from the roof that I couldn't explain. After a few awkward nights I realized it was squirrels running across the roof. In another case in the same house, I heard this very weird high-pitched sound that pretty much sounded like a ghost in a Hollywood movie. I did some investigating and traced the noise, which only happened when it was cold at night, to a loose external pipe. Notice the difference between you (strange things! Ghosts!) and me (strange things! I'm sure there's a perfectly natural explanation, it's just a matter of doing some work and finding it).

    There is not a single reliable and proven report of a supernatural event in human history. So no explanation is required for something that doesn't exist.
  • SherlockH
    73
    I didnt go into specifics but it was not mearly niose like creeks and whales of old pipes and mice in the walls. You make assumptions your case was the same as mine. Anyways when you are a person who become so skeptical you doubt the existance of god and than something creepy happens. It makes you doubt your own skepticism.
  • Uber
    147
    Cool. I'll be sure to let you know when I discover Jesus.
  • SherlockH
    73
    I really wouldn't care if you did.
  • Jeremiah
    834
    Only humans could be egotistical enough to believe their ill-conceived deities created all of existence.
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