Comments

  • Doubting personal experience
    A river tells the water which way to go as a mark on the landscapeapokrisis

    Well, a riverbed doesn't signify a river, unless there's an observer who makes that interpretation ('see that? It's a riverbed. Means that water must flow here sometimes'.)

    There are fundamental reasons why physics and biology require different levels of models, the most obvious one is that physical theory is described by rate-dependent dynamical laws that have no memory, while evolution depends, at least to some degree, on control of dynamics by rate-independent memory structures. — Pattee

    The Physics of Symbols

    I am trying to put my finger on the part that explains how the second level (exemplified in living systems) relates to the first (i.e. physical laws). So I think there is an implicit kind of dualism:

    The epistemic cut is the same distinction between hardware and software and, to some extent, as the distinction between mind and body. Its necessity makes itself apparent whenever we have to design a complex artifact, to analyse its functioning, or to explain it to an audience. Doing so without ever mentioning subject/object, controller/controlled/, meter/measure distinctions, though perhaps possible in principle, would be absurdly difficult and would not qualify as proper understanding. The epistemic cut is thus similar to what Daniel Dennett (him again!) calls 'the intentional stance', i.e. the attribution of purposeful intentions to the subjects of an action as a powerful method for compressing our descriptions'

    Design and Information in Biology: From Molecules to Systems, J. A. Bryant, page 80. This passage then mentions Pattee's definition of symbols, and says (page 83) 'life is matter with meaning'. That 'meaning' is what I'm having trouble identifying with respect to non-living matter, like rivers and riverbeds.
  • Doubting personal experience
    Symbols have to be physical marks.apokrisis

    What about mental arithmetic? or mental operations of any kind? And even if symbols are physical, the physical material they're made out of, is different to their meaning. That is why you can make the same sign in different materials. The material is different, but the meaning is the same, so how could the meaning be physical?

    And the speculative metaphysical project that most interests me is pan-semiosis, where semiosis is generalised to the non-living or physico-chemical sphere. So even the Universe is explained in terms of a sign relation.apokrisis

    But I do see anything like 'signification' in the inorganic domain. A word or sign signifies an idea as interpreted by an observer; in biology, DNA is language-like, and it has morphological consequences, i.e. it expresses or causes forms. How does that apply to inorganic matter?

    (Sheldrake says that 'nature forms habits' e.g. when a new crystal is synthesised for the first time, it takes much longer than on subsequent occasions when it is formed again. This is becuase the initial formation has started to form the 'habit'. I can't help but think this is related to Peirce's ideas of how regularities are initially formed out of "tychism".)
  • Doubting personal experience
    How are you defining habits exactly? Is that an actual theory with some mathematical structure or simply vague hand waving on your part?

    (A Peircean definition for example does focus on triadic or hierarchical organisation - the maths of thermodynamic complexity. And it is a physicalist metaphysics in that it extends causation to formal and final cause by embracing the materiality of symbols, or sign relations.
    apokrisis

    Just backing up a bit to this exchange on the page before this one.

    What is the 'materiality of symbols'? A symbol is effective (I had thought) because of the meaning it conveys, and the meaning it conveys (or imparts) is not dependent on the matter from which the symbol is made.

    'Sign relations' generally only operate in the the context of life and mind, don't they? I mean, biosemiosis shows how many of the processes of living beings are language-like, rather than mechanical. I had thought this is one of the main advantages of biosemiosis over mechanistic reductionism. And, if that is so, then I am finding it hard to understand the sense in which it is physicalist. Because, again, a sign operates at a level different to the purely physical level - it operates at the level of meaning. So it has a different kind of causal power, than the causal power of purely chemical reactions, doesn't it? That is how the 'formal and final' causes come into it, or so I would have thought.
  • "The truth is always in the middle"?
    What I mean is that we can, from sunyata, realize that to do good we shouldn't have an ulterior motive e.g. attaining nirvana or salvation etc. Simply be good.TheMadFool

    That is less egregious then your earlier 'everything is acceptable'. That attitude is just the kind of relativism or nihilism that is warned against by the Śūnyavada (exponents of Śūnyatā). There is a sense in which the spiritually emancipated are free from social rules and restrictions, on account of having gone beyond them, but that has to be interpreted carefully. I think it would be generally understood that such persons have no need of rules, because they have 'internalised' virtue to the point where it has become their nature. Perhaps it is reminiscent of Augustine's 'Love, and do what you will'.

    Simply be good.TheMadFool

    I think it was Aristotle who said 'virtue is its own reward', and there is considerable truth in that.
  • Doubting personal experience
    And yet it is within science that you find the best resources for also criticising that overly-reductionist viewpoint.apokrisis

    Is there anything of interest in this so-called 'third way' of evolutionary theory that I've started to notice?

    I was reading about the eels that live in ponds in a park in the middle of Sydney. Once a year the adults return to the ocean, which nowadays means negotiating their way across some areas of open ground and drains. They swim to a deep trench near New Caledonia to breed - around 1800 km. The elva then float around the coral sea for the first six - 12 months, and then they return to Botany Bay Sydney's coast, thence the ponds from which their parents had left - across drains and open fields.

    It seems they remember the route - even though they themselves have never traversed it.

    http://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/a-very-fast-drain-to-the-south-pacific-20111105-1n11j.html
  • Doubting personal experience
    You can see why science as an institution does roll its eyes when you have jokers that can't show there is some effect in want of a theory, then invent theories anyway that apply no matter how the world behaves.apokrisis

    Well, yes, but you also have to acknowledge that there is a self-reinforcing tendency even amongst the intelligentsia. In the video interview I mentioned, Piggliuci said there had been only two PSI research labs, and they had been shut down. (This is actually incorrect.) Sheldrake pointed out that the so-called 'sceptic associations' have tens of thousands of members who agitate against proposals to fund any such efforts. There was, or is, a group called PSICOPS (I think the name was changed) - Paul Kurtz, Michael Shermer, and many others of that ilk. They have been an effective activist lobby in all such matters. And of course they carry the supposed mantle of scientific authority.

    And of course it should be mentioned that there are far more lucrative career prospects than challenging the philosophical outlook of the mainstream. The reception to Thomas Nagel's book, Mind and Cosmos, is an indication of what happens when you challenge the mainstream.

    So we're dealing with a consensus model of reality, of the kinds of things that respectable scientists ought to study, and the kinds of things they ought not to. There are whole subject areas, like past-life research, PSI, and so on, that are simply categorised as pseudo-scientific because they challenge the mainstream view of materialism. To even put a research proposal forward is to risk ostracism - because 'everyone knows' it's 'just pseudoscience'.

    Another interesting philosophical point is that what is now called 'scepticism' actually usually amounts to a defense of scientific realism. Because of the way empiricism is understood nowadays, the kinds of things that are considered to be evidence have to meet certain criteria of reproducibility (not even mentioning the 'replication crisis'.) Whereas the original scepticism doubted even 'the evidence of the senses'. It would seriously contemplate the possibility that sensory experience was itself delusional in some sense.

    Now you see this crop up in forms such as - is the Universe a hologram? A simulation? and in sci-fi films llike Inception and the Matrix. And in those cases, 'scientific types' are quite willing to consider the possibility that 'the sensory domain' is really a kind of illusion - because simulations and holograms sound at least scientifically respectable. But if you were to ask those same people whether this possible illusion could be described in terms of 'the veil of Māyā' - the answer would be, of course not, that's an ancient superstition! That's religion, it's not science - don't want any of that around here!

    So what we see 'scepticism' nowadays doing, is the exact opposite of what scepticism set out to do, namely, it nowadays defends the consensus reality of scientific realism, which determines the bounds of what reasonable people are supposed to think in the way religion used to do. And that is precisely the point where it morphs into scientism.
  • Doubting personal experience
    If they cannot be known via empirical means then how could we ever decide that they are "forces and fields"? We would be in the position of being unable to show that 'something', 'we know not what', exists. Of what use could that ever be for philosophical enquiry?John

    Sheldrake's description of morphic resonance:

    Morphic resonance is a process whereby self-organising systems inherit a memory from previous similar systems. In its most general formulation, morphic resonance means that the so-called laws of nature are more like habits. The hypothesis of morphic resonance also leads to a radically new interpretation of memory storage in the brain and of biological inheritance. Memory need not be stored in material traces inside brains, which are more like TV receivers than video recorders, tuning into influences from the past. And biological inheritance need not all be coded in the genes, or in epigenetic modifications of the genes; much of it depends on morphic resonance from previous members of the species. Thus each individual inherits a collective memory from past members of the species, and also contributes to the collective memory, affecting other members of the species in the future.

    Morphic fields can't be detected through the same instruments that detect electromagnetic effects because they're not electromagnetic fields.

    As regards the philosophical implications: this thread is about the nature and signficance of first-person experience; what is the nature of the experiencing mind? That is a subject about which there is great diversity of views, from 'no significance whatever' to religious theories of an immortal soul. As you have already acknowledged, many of these questions are beyond the scope of the empirical sciences, or at least the 'empirical sciencs' as construed by materialism. So perhaps it is a subject where the consideration of alternative perspectives is relevant.

    do you believe Sheldrake's theory [of morphic resonance] has been experimentally validated?apokrisis

    I can't say that I do, but I also don't think that the possibility ought to be ruled out. Sheldrake's page on morphic resonance contains some of his published papers, and some refutations of the conclusions from his opponents.

    Although my view is that from the perspective of philosophy, the question ought to be treated hypothetically - i.e. if there is such a form of causation, then it is something not acknowledged by current science.

    However I will note in passing that Sheldrake's view that the so-called 'laws of nature' are in fact habits, is not miles away from the idea that 'matter is effette mind'.
  • Doubting personal experience
    I am aware of Consciousness and the Brain, it has a very good reputation from what I can ascertain. I didn't have that in mind, it was more the Churchlands and their ilk who I was taking a shot at.

    I find discussion of parapsychological research a bit uncomfortable, because it's often heated, and because the subject matter too often seems like a carnival sideshow. But I think, overall, the assertion that 'nothing has ever been found' is unwarranted. When I looked into some of the literature about it, it is packed with statistical arguments about what constitutes a significant deviation from the mean, which makes it both boring and hard to understand.

    The sceptic attitude is that, because claims of PSI are 'extraordinary', then these 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence'. This attitude is what drives all the debates about significant deviations for the various trials that were done over the years. But I recall reading one of the professional sceptics (Richard Wiseman) saying that, had remote viewing been non-controversial, then it would have been considered proven, but the 'extraordinary evidence' requirement could be invoked to declare that in this case it was not. Very handy being able to move the goalposts as required.

    (The best short account I read was Parapsychology and the Skeptics: A Scientific Argument for the Existence of ESP, Chris Carter, http://a.co/avLzrxb.)

    But I think the interesting philosophical question is: why PSI is considered 'extraordinary' in the first place? In a debate I watched between Sheldrake and Massimo Pugliucci (whose writing I have a lot of respect for), the latter said that if PSI were shown to be true, it would 'overturn the basic facts of physics and chemistry'. Sheldrake countered that it would do no such thing, it would simply indicate another type of causality over and above those understood by the hard sciences. I mean, it may not actually contravene any physical laws - it might simply suggest that there are forces or fields other than those known to the physical sciences.

    If, for example, there were biological fields that could propogate information - as Sheldrake claims - this might explain a great deal. After all, electro-magnetic fields weren't discovered until the mid-19th century. And how would a biological field effect be detected? Why, it might manifest itself in the form of the phenomena that PSI attempts to study.

    I don't see how this undermines science at all. What I think it does, is undermine materialism - and that's why it is considered a taboo.
  • "The truth is always in the middle"?
    sunyata philosophy everything is acceptable - a no-holds-barred gameTheMadFool

    Actually, Buddhists have a name for that view. It's called 'total bullshit'. It's a very common affliction amongst decadent Westerners. You're just totally, like, you know, wallowing in your own ego.
  • Can humans get outside their conceptual schemas?
    But what if he just had no idea what he was talking about, and believed something stupid?The Great Whatever

    I can't reply to that without appearing discourteous, but suffice to say, I don't believe there's anything to discuss.
  • "The truth is always in the middle"?
    How would you explain the concept of sunyata to a child?TheMadFool

    I don't think you would.

    Buddhists certainly recognize freedom of choice but they also undertake to observe the dharma.
  • Can humans get outside their conceptual schemas?
    However, there has been a long standing claim in philosophy, notably popularized by Kant, but perhaps going back to Protagoras, that we can't escape our conceptual schemas.Marchesk

    I think that is a very simplistic and problematical gloss of what Kant said. To actually explain what is called 'Kant's Copernican revolution in philosophy', would take a very long and detailed exposition, like for example one of the several lengthy articles devoted to that subject on SEP or IETP.

    However, all that said, I think the 'conceptual schemas' you refer to here are very much more like Thomas Kuhn's 'paradigms' than the Kantian 'categories of the understanding' (which are derived from Aristotle). A paradigm is much more like a worldview of the kind presented by your graphic. And Kuhn's book is very much concerned with what it takes to force the adoption of a new paradigm (a paradigmatic example being the rejection of the Ptolmaic for the Copernican system.)

    I don't think Kant's Critiques really require, or depend on, a worldview, as such, as they're aimed at (as it says on the label) being "critiques" - of reason itself, what are the constitutive rules and laws of thought and reason. Whatever they might be, we cannot stand outside them. You can't lay aside thought, and then proceed to think about something. So in that sense, you certainly can't step outside the 'laws of thought', not at least if you want to make sense of anything.

    Man being 'the measure of all things' is the theme the Protagoras, and is the subject of trenchant criticism by Plato on the grounds of it being sophistry. So saying that Kant represents that kind of relativism is, I think, a reckless portrayal, of one who was exceedingly meticulous and cautious in his reasoning about such matters. (Some Kant scholar, which I am certainly not, might know if Kant commented on the Protagoras.)

    Our modern cosmology...Marchesk

    I think it can be disputed that there is 'a modern cosmology' at this point (bearing in mind that the word 'cosmos' means 'an ordered whole'.) While all of the many disputes about parallel and multiple universes remained unsettled, anyway, and they don't look like being resolved anytime soon.

    a mature neuroscience will eliminate propositional content as an explanation for human cognitionMarchesk

    That obviously means that a 'mature neuroscience' will have no propositional content, which, I would think, is solid grounds for ignoring it (unless, of course, you are engaged in actual science, rather than pop philosophy).
  • Proofs of God's existence - what are they?
    If you walk into a room that is clean, neat and organized we automatically think of an organizer - the agency of order.TheMadFool

    That reminds me of a saying by a very well-known scientist, who whilst not conventionally religioius, believed that:

    The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God.

    (Anyone know the provenance of the quote?)
  • "The truth is always in the middle"?
    Madhyamaka has a mathematical counterpart, to wit ZERO sitting exactly in the middle between positive and negative numbers. And doesn't that resonate with sunyata?TheMadFool

    Well, it is believed that Buddhist (or possibly Hindu) mathematicians first came up with the idea of zero, without which, of course, decimal notation was not possible, and this was at least partially because they were comfortable with the idea of denoting the idea of 'nothing' (which ancient mathematicians in the West were not.) But śūnyatā doesn't actually mean 'nothing', it is a more subtle idea than that. It refers to the 'emptiness of phenomena', their lack of substance or essence.
  • Proofs of God's existence - what are they?
    None of the 'proofs of God' were originally intended as arguments to convert unbelievers. And none of their proponents, who were generally theologians, believed that people could be converted solely by reason or philosophical argument. In their view, faith was paramount - you first had to have faith and believe in the Word, and then the proofs, and other such philosophical devices, could serve as salutory exercises for the faithful.

    The way these arguments have been trashed by the likes of the so-called 'New atheists' - by presenting them as kind of pseudo-scientific hypotheses, which have subsequently been debunked by 'real science' - only serves to illustrate their incomprehension of the meaning and intent behind them.

    This post is not an attempt to convert. All such arguments might indeed be the delusions of a fevered imagination. But at least understand the original intent.
  • Doubting personal experience
    That's not at all what I meant, although it's significant that what I said is intepreted in terms of 'parapsychology' and the like. It's more about:

    naturalism is up against transcendental discourses...apokrisis

    I was attempting to pinpoint the origin of that division, of the supposed barrier between the natural and supernatural, and why some ideas in particular are categorised with the latter.

    I never saw any general attempt at suppressing way out ideas so long as they were in some way "science" in being in at least some sense prospectively testable.apokrisis

    Interesting to consider the treatement that is regularly meted out to Rupert Sheldrake. He claims his ideas are capable of experimental validation, and yet from his very first publications his ideas have been derided as scientific heresy. John Lennox, in his review of Sheldrake's first book, A New Science of Life, declared it 'a book for burning' in Nature magazine, of which he was then Editor. Later, in a BBC interview on why he used that phrase, he said:

    I was so offended by it, that I said that while it's wrong that books should be burned, in practice, if book burning were allowed, this book would be a candidate (...) I think it's dangerous that people should be allowed by our liberal societies to put that kind of nonsense into currency. It's unnecessary to introduce magic into the explanation of physical and biological phenomena when in fact there is every likelihood that the continuation of research as it is now practised will indeed fill all the gaps that Sheldrake draws attention to. You see, Sheldrake's is not a scientific theory. Sheldrake is putting forward magic instead of science, and that can be condemned, with exactly the language that the popes used to condemn Galileo, and for the same reasons: it is heresy.

    Note that it's heresy because of its subject matter - not because of the methodology. Sheldrake is an experimental scientist and subjects his theory to experimental validation. What appears to be at issue, is whether the perceived effects he claims to demonstrate are caused by the factors other scientists are willing to acknowledge, or whether they are caused by the novel idea of morphic resonance. It is that idea which Maddox calls 'heretical'.
  • Doubting personal experience
    that in turn brings me back towards some fairly "religious" sounding metaphysics.apokrisis

    Actually, on a more serious note, the problem is that some religious ideas are taboo in modern academic discourse. My belief about that is, that it's a consequence of the history of how such ideas were dealt with in the West. Mainly, it's because of the unbearable amount of pressure brought to bear against heresy, and conversely, the importance attached to orthodoxy.

    I formed the view, when I studied History of Religion, that this went back right to the formation of orthodoxy in the Western tradition. There was a sense that certain 'articles of faith' were compulsory - you had to believe particular things in a certain way. That is what 'orthodoxy' came to mean.

    There used to be a passage floating around on the Web, of the original charter of the Royal Society, which was the first truly scientific association in the world. A big part of that charter was 'keep away from anything the churchmen are interested in'. That was understandable on a lot of grounds, at the time, considering the constant wars and conflicts of religion that had gripped Europe for centuries.

    So I think that led to the parting of the ways - the division between what would be considered the natural sciences, and matters spiritual.

    So now that has lead to certain kinds of ideas being effectively taboo in modern culture - but the reason why they're taboo, or what drove them underground, is itself forgotten. And that drives a lot of the debate in this matter,
  • Doubting personal experience
    Immanent naturalism is up against transcendental discourses that want to leave the window open to creators, miracles, dualism and other kinds of supernatural goings-on.apokrisis

    Yes, there's a mob of them on the street outside, trying to burn down a library. I should go and intervene.
  • Doubting personal experience
    Of course I then agree that Dennett, Dawkins, the usual candidates, play a part in the great dichotomising cultural war of Enlightenment monadic materialism against Romanticism's dualising transcendence. So outside of the formal boundaries of science, you have this other big show going on as a folk metaphysical battle.

    But I like to keep the two things separate.
    apokrisis

    Right. We have basically different interests - I'm commenting on the 'culture wars', 'science v religion', and so on, and you're commenting on the new developments in biosemiotics and biological sciences.

    Biosemiotics, as you say, offers a model which much better reflects the nature of mind and life, because of its basis in language and signs. That is not really what is at issue in the debate about the significance of first-person understanding and its relationship with science.

    As John points out, there is a difference between expecting the mystery to be cleared up in some radically different way (revelation? poetry?) and accepting that science - as the refined form of rational inquiry - is a finite exercise.apokrisis

    I think if one accepts science as a finite exercise, then one is indeed exercising the humility that I was referring to in the previous post - kind of a Socratic humility, 'all I know is that I know nothing'. I'm sure plenty of scientists - maybe even most scientists - are like that. But would they then be interested in the task of trying to 'reverse engineer the soul', do you think?

    And, you see, the reference to 'folk metaphysics' really does put you more towards the reductionist end of the spectrum, I'm afraid; after all, it is the elminativists that speak of the mind in terms of 'folk psychology'. (Those old-fashioned superstitious types, who believe in the elusive nature of the soul....)

    even these arch-reductionists would see themselves as being anti-occult explainers. So they don't pathologically fear "a mystery" - your suggestion of some personal foible. They quite sensibly oppose "unnecessary mystification"apokrisis

    No, it's deeper than that. It's no coincidence that Dennett in addition to describing humans as 'moist robots', is also an evangalising atheist who sees himself locked in a battle of (rational) science vs (superstitious) religion. These writers exemplify what Nagel - professed atheist though he might be - identifies as 'the fear of religion':

    IN SPEAKING OF THE FEAR OF RELIGION, I don't mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.

    My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the [End Page 160] ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and design as fundamental features of the world.

    Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion (in The Last Word 2006).
  • Doubting personal experience
    This is not to say that there are not (in-finite) aspects of mind, matter and life that will never be understood; either scientifically or philosophically, simply in virtue of the limitations of finite intellects.John

    Right. That's similar to my response to Apokrisis (the paragraph about 'where science is in the hierarchy of understanding), although perhaps not so clearly stated. But in any case, if that is your view, then there's nothing to take issue with.