• 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
    6.9k
    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
    6.1k


    The creator is no-thing, and so came from no-thing.
  • Michael
    7.4k
    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
    579
    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
    579
    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
    6.9k
    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
    1.6k
    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
    6.9k
    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
    6.9k
    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
    1.5k
    Only humans could be egotistical enough to believe their ill-conceived deities created all of existence.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    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.Uber

    All of this is not 'according to me' - it is an approximation, or a simplification, of how arithmetic was understood in classical culture. Realising that was a 'lightbulb moment' for me. (I didn't study Classics at school, apart from one semester of Latin, so not quite sure how I arrived at it. Might have been a previous life ;-) )

    As regards the claim that number doesn't begin and end in time, but that phenomenal objects do - that is a claim that can be judged on its merits. As I said, what phenomenal object does this not apply to? All material things are compounded and temporal - are they not? Can you name any?

    (The difference between primes and the other numbers is simply that the former can't be divided.)

    Are letters real and not material also?Uber

    This touches on the nature of meaning - which branches into linguistics and semiotics. This was the subject of a long thread which I started last year on whether information is physical. But basically, consider this - the same information (in the sense of the same meaning or proposition) can be encoded in any number of languages, and any number of systems - binary, written, or various symbolic codes. So if the meaning doesn't change, but the media does, then the meaning is different to the media. It's not totally discrete, as the means of expression sometimes does have semantic consequences - but the general point remains. That is, that the physical form and the semantic import exist on different levels. (The quoted passage in this post in particular is of interest in this connection. It represents Thomistic/Aristotelan, as opposed to Cartesian, dualism.)

    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?Uber

    Again, excellent questions. I think I mentioned before the entry in Wikipedia on Philosophy of Mathematics. It is quite a good article and a large list of connected topics, further readings, and so on. You will find that Platonist theories (which are 'realist' in the old-school, not modern sense) are quite well represented. But it's not surprising there's no unanimity - metaphysics is a vexing and difficult subject. Furthermore, as you well know, philosophical empiricism has a dogma against innate knowledge, which Platonism obviously suggests. The current fashion is naturally to understand mathematical ability through the lens of evolutionary biology. In fact many of the exponents of the kind of philosophy I am interested in are neo-Thomists - Catholics, in practice (although I myself am not).

    Also, how do the incompleteness theorems fit into the context of your theory?Uber

    Gödel was a mathematical realist, a Platonist. He believed that what makes mathematics true is that it's descriptive—not of empirical reality, of course, but of an abstract reality. Mathematical intuition is something analogous to a kind of sense perception. In his essay "What Is Cantor's Continuum Hypothesis?", Gödel wrote that we're not seeing things that just happen to be true, we're seeing things that must be true. The world of abstract entities is a necessary world—that's why we can deduce our descriptions of it through pure reason. — Rebecca Goldstein

    Godel and the nature of mathematical truth

    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?Uber

    Again, excellent questions. But this is precisely what the rationalist tradition of metaphysics claimed to have discovered. Their answer is, we can understand these things, and communicate using them, because we're rational beings. And reason, rationality, is the capacity to grasp rational truths and abstractions. The fact that most think about these capacities in Darwinian terms, is one of the dogmas of the culture we live in.

    But also Kant's criticism of both the rationalist and empiricist philosophers is important. That essay I linked to in the last post is a good starting point.

    One more thing - look at today's amazing technology. That is because h. sapiens can use his/her imagination and rational skill to peer into the 'realm of the possible' and actually real-ise some of it. That is what separates us from beasts, although again, that is now a very non-PC thing to believe.

    I very much believe conscious and subconscious mental states are real physical thingsUber

    'Very much believe', eh? is that belief a physical thing, or is it a conviction? If it is physical, where is it?

    //edit// if it were a physical thing, then how could it be subject to rational persuasion? And if it’s not subject to rational persuasion, then what is there to debate?//

    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.Uber

    I have never accepted that understanding. Science doesn't fully understand 'the atom', the purportedly simplest things in the Universe - I see no evidence that it understands consciousness (except for in the sense of cognitive sciences which is a functional analysis). But from the moment living things coalesce, they are then subjects of experience, and subjects of experience are of a different order to what the objective sciences tell us.

    We ourselves, as physical organisms, are part of [the] universe, composed of the same basic elements as everything else, and recent advances in molecular biology have greatly increased our understanding of the physical and chemical basis of life. Since our mental lives evidently depend on our existence as physical organisms, especially on the functioning of our central nervous systems, it seems natural to think that the physical sciences can in principle provide the basis for an explanation of the mental aspects of reality as well — that physics can aspire finally to be a theory of everything.

    However, I believe this possibility is ruled out by the conditions that have defined the physical sciences from the beginning. The physical sciences can describe organisms like ourselves as parts of the objective spatio-temporal order – our structure and behavior in space and time – but they cannot describe the subjective experiences of such organisms or how the world appears to their different particular points of view. There can be a purely physical description of the neurophysiological processes that give rise to an experience, and also of the physical behavior that is typically associated with it, but such a description, however complete, will leave out the subjective essence of the experience – how it is from the point of view of its subject — without which it would not be a conscious experience at all.
    — Thomas Nagel

    https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/the-core-of-mind-and-cosmos/

    You talk about things that have been lost, that are not as well understood now as they once were in the past.Uber

    As I said, I see the Western philosophical tradition as having been infiltrated or hijacked by materialism, which has always been one strand of it, but never the ascendant strand. The kinds of views that materialists have are very useful for the creation of technology, devices, medicine, and many other excellent utilities, but //it ought to be recognised for what it is which is primarily the philosophy of scientists and engineers rather than philosophy per se.//

    Thanks again for your questions and careful writing.
  • Uber
    147
    Your last post contains several red herrings and non-answers.

    My objection to your conception of numbers was not rooted in your understanding of phenomena, regardless of any other objections I may have on that particular point. The claim was that there exists a fundamental contradiction in your conception of a number, which is a general contradiction that pertains to any concept that is held up as immaterial. The contradiction is that you assign to numbers a causal material property ("capable of being understood") and then you claim that numbers are also immaterial (existing outside of time). But numbers cannot be understood if they exist out of space and time, because the mental process of understanding is rooted in a physical order that requires space and time. This is the central objection. We can talk about phenomenal objects later. Your theory already has several holes; better to start plugging some of these before opening up new ones.

    You say we can understand these immaterial universals because of reason, but what is the source of our reason? Is reason itself a universal? If human reason is a universal, did it exist 60 million years ago on Earth, when there were no human beings around? That doesn't make much sense. It seems like the only sensible alternative is to maintain that reason is emergent and conditional. In contrast to your metaphysical flailing, materialism can explain the basic source of human reason: the unique physical structure of the brain, a product of a lengthy evolutionary history and the fundamental ecological conditions that drove that history.

    Of course my belief is physical. It's in my brain, where else would it be? It's nothing more or less than the interactive correlations of billions of neurons that have encoded my memory of past experiences. These neurons are not free from the external constraints of the world. They are capable of responding to energy flows from the outside world, including the analysis of words and ideas observed on a computer screen. It's precisely because they are malleable and capable of changing that the brain has the capacity to change opinions and beliefs. Neurons can actually grow and form different, highly complex connections in response to interactions with the outside world. Do you know a single thing about modern neuroscience? Or did you just read Plato, learn that materialism is bad, and never bothered to look up any scientific developments in the last 300 years? Here we have again an example of something that materialism can explain: the capacity of the brain to change and reach different conclusions over time. Materialism is what explains why the mind can be persuaded.

    Godel's thoughts on Platonic realism are nice, but completely beside the point, which is that the intelligibility of mathematics does not rest on its internal consistency or completeness, since math is fundamentally neither consistent nor complete. It also cannot provide unambiguous analytical solutions for every physical situation. How could the great Godel not see this? In the same way that the great Schrodinger originally conceived of the wavefunction as an electric charge density, before Born reinterpreted the whole thing as a probability density and pissed him off. Great thinkers sometimes do not appreciate the implications or the full capabilities of their results. So how can math be understood? The empirically plausible answer is that it can be understood because its principles often correspond to natural interactions and phenomena in the world.

    I obviously disagree with Nagel, but I am also wondering to what extent you want to debate me versus having me debate any random philosopher you decide to quote on any subject. I don't think a quoting match is what you really want, because I can also copy and paste lots of things from the Internet. Subjective experiences are themselves physical and material products within the brain, and the major reason why people have different subjective experiences is because their brains contain different neural architectures, which were shaped by their unique experiences in the material world. That's the beauty of materialism: it can explain subjective experiences. Under dualism, they're just kind of there, with souls and all other non-empirical mumbo jumbo ready to supply the agency or whatever is needed to make the whole charade work.

    What do you think "to understand" something means? We have a fairly good understanding of the empirical properties of atoms. Sure we may not know everything, but is knowing everything about something a precondition for understanding it? Likewise we do not know everything about how consciousness emerges, but this is missing the fundamental point: we know that thoughts and conscious states correspond to physical activities in the brain. I could list and quote studies until we're old and gray, but I'll spare you from your own methods. I will just cite all of modern neuroscience, which has convincingly landed in the monist camp. The precise physical mechanisms that lead someone to cry or to feel incredible joy will require unpacking how neural clusters interact with each other. This is the biggest challenge, because an adult human has about 100 billion neurons, and they interact through highly complicated networks that are not easy to model.

    I don't know who's claiming that materialism represents all of philosophy. Philosophy is a method of analysis that emphasizes the use of logical reasoning in order to understand the world. Materialism is a philosophical doctrine that happens to accurately describe reality because it has overwhelming empirical support and good theoretical arguments for its central claims.
  • SherlockH
    73
    humans do seem to be the most arrogant creatures.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    The contradiction is that you assign to numbers a causal material property ("capable of being understood") and then you claim that numbers are also immaterial (existing outside of time).Uber

    That is not a contradiction. Their being "capable of being understood" is not a "causal material property". Understanding a number is an intellectual act, one which humans alone, as rational agents, can do (leaving aside that some other animals demonstrate a rudimentary ability to count).

    But numbers cannot be understood if they exist out of space and time, because the mental process of understanding is rooted in a physical order that requires space and time.Uber

    But this begs the question - it assumes the very point at issue. And the number 7 would be the number 7 in ancient China, in modern America, and on the Starship Endeavour, as well as on the distant galaxy to which it is flying at warp speed. It is the same whether it's written as 7, seven, or VII, or no matter who counts it.

    Your theory already has several holes; better to start plugging some of these before opening up new ones.Uber

    As far as I'm concerned they're plugged. The question I asked was: are there examples of phenomenal objects that are not composed of parts, and don't have a beginning and end in time?

    We have a fairly good understanding of the empirical properties of atoms.Uber

    'The atom' is no longer an atom in the sense of an indivisible material unit; it's the particle zoo, the 'standard model', a mathematical construction. (Besides, there are many who claim that physics is in crisis.)

    Godel's thoughts on Platonic realism are nice, but completely beside the point,Uber

    Your question was:
    how do the incompleteness theorems fit into the context of your theory?Uber

    My response was to demonstrate that the inventor of those very theories was a mathematical Platonist. And the relevance of that is, the belief that number is real but non-material is characteristic of mathematical Platonism. So it was directly to the point.

    Of course my belief is physical. It's in my brain, where else would it be? It's nothing more or less than the interactive correlations of billions of neurons that have encoded my memory of past experiences. These neurons are not free from the external constraints of the world. ...[Brains] are capable of responding to energy flows from the outside world, including the analysis of words and ideas observed on a computer screen. It's precisely because they are malleable and capable of changing that the brain has the capacity to change opinions and beliefs. Neurons can actually grow and form different, highly complex connections in response to interactions with the outside world. Do you know a single thing about modern neuroscience?Uber

    The relationship between neurons and meaning, is not much different in principle from that between letters and the information that they carry, which, as I have argued, exist on different levels. Just as it's a mistake to say that the meaning is 'in' the letters of a sentence, or that a television drama is 'in' the circuitry of the television, so it's also a mistake to believe that it's 'in' the brain. The brain is obviously central to it, but the brain is embodied, en-cultured and in-context. Obviously that's a big topic, but one current text I can cite in support is the Hacker and Bennett book The Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (much more recent than Plato!) which argues in detail that to attribute such capacities to brains is to commit “the mereological fallacy”, that is, the fallacy of attributing to parts of the anatomy attributes that are properly activities of the whole. So you're not correct in saying that neuroscience has 'convincingly' decided for a monistic view; it's simply not the case. There have been distinguished neuroscientists, including Wilder Penfield and John Eccles, who have published books arguing for dualism.

    And furthermore, when I attempt to persuade you - obviously I'm failing here - that is not a physical process. What would be a physical process would be for me to hit you or give you an intoxicant or drug. But then, would that cause you to change your view? Even if it did - would it count?

    What is at play in a debate between rational beings is exchanges of ideas and reasons. Whenever you say, 'this is x because of y', then you're appealing to reason. And on the same grounds that meaning is not of the same order as the material form in which it is encoded, reason is not dependent on any particular material configuration. When you see something, when you're compelled by reason to accept some truth, you're //not// seeing something physical - you're seeing the necessity of logic. It doesn't mean that logic or reason is omniscient. But it's also not physical.

    Subjective experiences are themselves physical and material products within the brainUber

    That's the beauty of materialism: it can explain subjective experiencesUber

    So you say.

    Under dualism, they're just kind of there, with souls and all other non-empirical mumbo jumbo ready to supply the agency or whatever is needed to make the whole charade work.Uber

    You haven't demonstrated a grasp of what dualism entails, nor have your counter-arguments come to terms with mine, as far as I'm concerned.

    The precise physical mechanisms that lead someone to cry or to feel incredible joy will require unpacking how neural clusters interact with each other. This is the biggest challenge, because an adult human has about 100 billion neurons, and they interact through highly complicated networks that are not easy to model.Uber

    We can still manage without knowing that. I think the grounds for studying neuroscience are medical, not philosophical (and they're excellent grounds - I have had more than one relative saved by neuroscience. But 'understanding the brain' has nothing much to do with philosophy).

    Materialism is a philosophical doctrine that happens to accurately describe reality because it has overwhelming empirical support and good theoretical arguments for its central claims.Uber

    There can't be empirical proof of metaphysical arguments, by definition. Metaphysical views are interpretations of the nature of reality or the world as a whole. Empirical claims are those which are amenable to specific observation and/or falsification with respect to some fact or observation.

    Scientific materialism is the default philosophy in the secular West. I get that - I understand it, I even in respect it in many ways. But I don't believe in it. The purported causal connection between neuro-science, evolution, and brain chemistry to //explain the nature of // subjective experience and the content of thought is what is at issue here, which is why I mentioned Thomas Nagel - he's not some 'random guy' but a current philosopher, whose book Mind and Cosmos was on exactly this topic.
  • Noble Dust
    3.2k


    What creatures do you find less arrogant?
  • Sum Dude
    34
    I believe as stated in other topics our minds are separate aspects/avatars/archetypes of God.

    So in a sense yes, I believe in God and the collective good as close as we can manage given the restraints of time and space.

    But no, God isn't a person with a single mind. If he were he would be a human, meaning, just a dude.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    But no, God isn't a person with a single mind. If he were he would be a human, meaning, just a dude.Sum Dude

    :up:
  • Sum Dude
    34


    Eyyy, quoted in my first half hour. Thanks. :D

    I would have said, "emphatically just some effing dude" but I don't know how family friendly this forum is yet.

    I notice you have a lot of syncretic belief system stuff going on in your profile. If you ever want to talk about Taoism or Confucianism PM me, I would make a topic here on Eastern Religion and Ethics but I don't know if that would be "preaching" even though Taoism and Confucianism aren't really evangelizing on the English speaking internet as far as I know.
  • Life101
    13
    To the original question, no, I do not believe in a god. I find no credible evidence for such.Just claims, and lots of testimonials. They are worthless in a world of science. God s a delusion and a myth, based on superstition.
  • Uber
    147
    Wayfarer:

    According to you, understanding numbers is not a causal material property, but is an "intellectual act." So then what's an intellectual act? Oh that's right: it's a causal process, one in which we take information from the external world, filter and process it, then use it to guide our beliefs and thoughts. Every single part of this process unfolds in space and time.

    And every example in your attempted rebuttal, from China to the Endeavour, is happening in space and time. If numbers truly existed outside of space and time, they could never be understood. The contradiction stands. And it's the same problem faced by every fairy tale concept in philosophy that purports to show there's something beyond the material world, from the soul to God. People define these things in terms of causal properties that exist in reality, but then claim that the things themselves are not part of material reality. Quentin Smith successfully put a break on these absurdities as far as God goes. You can read his papers if you wish, but I think the videos that I've linked to below on Youtube are more instructive. He is being interviewed for a documentary on theism, and the conversation touches on exactly the fundamental problem with your idea: you rely on a causality rooted in materialism to describe numbers, but then conveniently turn around and claim that numbers are not material.

    1) God and time

    2) God and consciousness

    3) Fallacies in Theism

    I also missed your claim about primes, but it's a bit confusing. What do you mean that primes cannot be divided? They cannot be divided by any other natural number and still yield a natural number, but they can still be divided. 17 / 2 is 8.5.

    So because the atom is no longer the fundamental and indivisible unit of matter, then it's not understood? By whose standards? Those of Democritus and Leucippus? Ah yes, I remember, someone in the past understood these issues much better. Obviously the Standard Model is not the final story and more work remains to be done on incorporating gravitation into a single theory capable of getting empirical support. Theoretically, string theory and M-theory already have successfully unified gravity with the other fundamental interactions. String theory predicts the existence of a spin-2 boson that acts like a graviton. However, there's no empirical support yet for these theories, and they should be viewed skeptically until there is. But I digress. The point is that the basic structure of atoms is well-understood. You are conflating this issue with the question of what ultimately makes up all matter, which is a different debate, and one we can certainly have.

    Who cares if Godel was a Platonist? Was that the subject of our debate, or was it my question on how the incompleteness theorems affect your theory, if at all? Should I believe in God specifically because Newton also believed in God? Should I be agnostic because Einstein was agnostic? You are in a philosophy forum; you should know that arguing from authority has the intellectual currency of toilet paper. Trolling me with what Godel believed is a red herring, because it did not address my complaint against your theory (that mathematics is not logically consistent or inherently rational and so cannot be understood on those terms).

    On the status of monism and dualism in contemporary neuroscience, I submit the following sources.

    1) The book Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience (2003) by Jeffrey Cummings and Michael Mega. On page 4:

    Contemporary neuroscience has established a fundamental correlation between brain function and mental activity; the data support the basic monistic premise that human emotional and intellectual life is dependent on neuronal operations. This monistic perspective is associated with a philosophy of materialism.

    2) The book Psychology of Science (2012) by Robert Proctor and E. J. Capaldi. On page 462 they quote a long list of major thinkers and neuroscientists that reject dualism, including Antonio Damasio (one of the great neuroscientists of our time):

    The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio (1994) is noted for his critique of Descartes's separation of mind and body, which he refers to as a significant "error" thay has misled many cognitive scientists and neuroscientists. Noe (2010) is also clear that the last 25 years have led a growing number of neuroscientists to abandon the Cartesian dualism of mind and body for an "embodied, situated approach to mind" in which we are "dynamically coupled with the world, not separate from it." Rand and Llardi echo the same conclusion: "To the degree that a scientist subscribes to the still widespread Western belief in mind-body dualism...his or her ability to investigate the relationship between mental events and brain events may be compromised."

    3) The book Explaining Abnormal Behavior (2014) by Bruce Pennington. On page 176:

    Although modern neuroscience has rejected dualism, it still has to account for how cognitive representations and processes can affect bodily states.

    I certainly agree with this last statement, and I also understand that this is a problem within the context of materialism. I am not claiming that modern neuroscience has solved every problem related to consciousness, but there is clearly enough evidence by now to throw out dualism, which contradicts the vast majority of the experimental findings. Dualism entails many things depending on who's doing the interpretation, but its fundamental feature is the insistence on having an immaterial component somehow associated with the mind. This is the basic position that neuroscience has rejected.

    The fact that some random neuroscientists still cling to dualism is about as relevant as the fact that some geologists still believe in young Earth creationism. It's impossible to eradicate stupid. Kurt Wise got a PhD in geology from Harvard and thinks the Earth is 10,000 years old.

    Now I get it, I really do, that these things used to be understood much better in the past. Some guy 2,000 years ago really understood these things. I'm not sure who, but I do know that the Greeks and the Babylonians made some historic contributions to neuroscience with their MRI techniques.

    Let me address the question of how meaning emerges in the brain. On your account, meaning seems to be here, there, and nowhere all at the same time. A little bit in the brain, a little bit in the letters, a little bit in the intellect, a little bit in Hogwarts with Harry Potter. When you say that the brain is "embodied, en-cultured, and in-context," you are situating the brain in a material setting. As Noe states above, the brain is dynamically coupled to the external world, which means it receives energy from that world, and through that process develops beliefs, attitudes, and a sense of meaning. How? By recognizing symbols like numbers and letters, phonemes like spoken words, a variety of vocalizations, body communication, and various other physical activities that the brain has learned are useful in certain contexts. What has done the learning? The neurons have. Their plasticity allows them to grow, change, form new connections. Meaning about any issue, including this one, is encoded in neural states. Why do babies, for example, lack the sense of meaning you and I can grasp? Why do they lack the ability to see the full range of colors when first born? In other words, how can an embedded sense of rationality exist in certain human minds but not others? The only way to resolve this verbal jujitsu that you're trying to juggle is to realize the simple truth: that our sense of reason is an emergent property of a developing and interacting brain. And when common meaning emerges in many brains through their interactions with the world, it leads to things like society and culture. Those are the aggregate products of many human beings living, working, and changing together, all under the physical constraints of their wider ecological order. Materialism explains, your fairy tales only amuse.

    The cognitive scientist Benjamin Bergen also explains this very elegantly. In his book Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning (2012), he writes in the Foreword:

    For centuries we in the West have thought of ourselves as rational animals whose mental capacity transcends our bodily nature. In this traditional view, our minds are abstract, logical, unemotionally rational, consciously accessible, and above all, able to directly fit and represent the world.
    .
    .
    .
    I was brought up to think about the mind, language, and the world in this way. And I was there in the mid-1970s when the revolution started. Some philosophers...had already begun taking issue with the traditional view of the mind. They argued that our bodies have everything to do with our minds. Our brains evolved to allow our bodies to function in the world, and it is that embodied engagement with the world, the physical, social, and intellectual world, that makes our concepts and language meaningful. And on the back of this insight, the Embodiment Revolution began.
    .
    .
    .
    It started out with empirical research carried out mostly by analytical cognitive linguists who discovered general principles governing massive amounts of data. Certain computer scientists, psychologists, and philosophers slowly began taking the embodiment of mind seriously by the 1980s. But by the mid-1990s, computational neural modelers and especially experimental psychologists picked up on the embodied cognition research -- brilliant experimenters like Ray Gibbs, Larry Barsalou, Rolf Zwaan, Art Glenberg, Stephen Kosslyn, Martha Farah, Lera Boroditsky, Teenie Matlock, Daniel Cassanto [and many more]...They have experimentally shown the reality of embodied cognition beyond a doubt. Thought is carried out in the brain by the same neural structures that govern vision, action, and emotion. Language is made meaningful via the sensory-motor and emotional systems, which define goals and imagine, recognize, and carry out actions. Now, at the beginning of the twenty first century, the evidence is in. The ballgame is over. The mind is embodied.

    "Reason is not dependent on any particular material configuration."

    What total rubbish, and a far stronger claim than what I thought you were defending, which was that reason is not material but still depends on some material properties. This latter claim is still false, but it's at least more plausible than your little gem above.

    You may say that you don't believe in materialism, but your views of the world are overflowing with it. Your original understanding of reason and meaning all imply materialism. But you are engaged in a kind of 'God-of-the-gaps' fallacy. Just because materialistic theories cannot yet explain every single feature of the world, you posit immaterial things that don't make any sense. And you don't seem bothered by the fact that these immaterial things have far less explanatory power than the materialist ideas. No different than the strange sounds above. I hear strange sounds, so it must be ghosts!

    I did not claim that materialism has empirical "proof." That was your word. Materialism can never be proven like a mathematical theorem. It can only be assessed in light of empirical evidence about the world and philosophical reasoning. Based on these standards, it does a far better job of explaining reality than competing theories.
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