Quantcast

«

»

Jan 05 2012

Real Spiritual Exercises for Atheists

Several years ago, I had a very strange dinner with Paul Nelson, who tried to convince me that my materialist view of biology was totally wrong and was missing all the important stuff. To do that, he performed a little demonstration for me. He flexed his arm at me.

“Look at that,” he said, “My mind is doing that.” He didn’t give me a nice spooky “woOOOoooo”, but he should have — it would have been perfectly appropriate. I don’t think he was on drugs, either.

But I’ve seen this phenomenon many times. Take some woo-inclined individual, put their brain to work on some incompletely understood process, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that they’ll come back to you utterly convinced that mundane physical events are ultimately confirming evidence for whatever metaphysical nonsense is poisonously wafting about in their heads. And now we have a wonderful example of this kind of sloppy stupid bullshit right here on freethoughtblogs.

I have no idea why Daniel Fincke is indulging this Eric Steinhart character, but he’s had a number of guest posts lately that are raving mad rationalizations for ‘spirituality’, whatever the hell that is. Here’s an example.

Spiritual exercises typically involve mental preparation for performance through visualization or emotional preparation for performance through arousal regulation. Visualization involves working with mental imagery while arousal regulation involves conscious control of physiological and emotional arousal (it involves neocortical control of the limbic system and autonomic nervous system).

Of course these are real phenomena. Like Paul Nelson bending his arm, you can consciously control many aspects of your mental state (but not all; ask anyone in the throes of depression — you can’t just will yourself out of everything), and there are behaviors and ways of thinking that you can do to shift the way your brain is working.

But that paragraph above is a perfect example of bullshitting to justify crap. Notice the scientific justification of “neocortical control of the limbic system and autonomic nervous system” — sure, that’s the core of your brain that is involved in arousal, and we know that from scientific experiments and observations. But look what he does: he calls these spiritual exercises.

They are not. They are physiological exercises. They do not manipulate “spirit”, they change the physical state of the brain. But these glib pseudoscientific quacks just love to borrow the language of science and slap the label of “spiritual” or “Wiccan” or “transcendental meditation” or “Buddhist” onto them. It’s intellectual theft, plain and simple: it’s woo-meisters doing their damnedest to appropriate natural phenomena to their cause. It’s the same thing as when Pat Robertson ascribes a natural disaster to the wrath of a divine being — he’s pointing to reality and claiming it for the kingdom of irrational supernaturalism.

I can do the same thing. Next time you encounter one of these kooks, I want you to stop and contemplate what they are doing. I want you to fan the rage, that is, channel your inner being to stimulate your amygdala. Feel the anger grow. Concentrate on your arm; make it rise. Flex the elbow (Amazing! How are you doing that?) and then…reach out and slap ‘em upside the head.

If they complain, just tell them you were practicing your Myersian spiritual exercises. I think I’m going to have to start a whole school teaching these skills, so I can get paid for it.

358 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    “Look at that,” he said, “My mind is doing that.”

    No shit, Sherlock. What is this guy, a five year old?

  2. 2
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    I have no idea why he indulges him either. Steinhart apparently thinks it’s reasonable and comports with logic to state that an atheist can believe in God. Or so it seems. He’s so prolix and his post was so dense with logical symbology it was torture.

  3. 3
    Physicalist

    he performed a little demonstration for me. He flexed his arm at me.

    Heh. I do something similar in my class after a big build-up about how I’m going to “make a physical object move with nothing but my MIND!!!11!”

    Of course, physicalism has absolutely no trouble with this, but it’s a big problem for the dualism.

  4. 4
    'Tis Himself

    I gave up on the Steinhart Wiccan posts when Eric made it obvious that he was trying to justify Wicca while simultaneously denying he was justifying Wicca.

  5. 5
    Momo Elektra

    Awesome! I had a chuckle.

  6. 6
    Glen Davidson

    My spirit is sickened by such nonsense.

    Or anyway, my physiology finds it disagreeable.

    Glen Davidson

  7. 7
    Cuttlefish

    Hmm… I must be doing it all wrong. I have told my classes, “anyone who believes in psychokinesis, raise my hand.”

    And so far, my hand has stayed down.

    Eric?

  8. 8
    dexitroboper

    Now we see the violence inherent in the system.

  9. 9
    Glen Davidson

    “Look at that,” he said, “My mind is doing that.”

    And yet it can’t make the simple connections between evolutionary predictions and their very visible outcomes in life.

    Not a very good advertisement for spirit, unthinking troll. If “mind” was a woo-woo spirit haunting your skull, and from God to boot, I’d expect it to work a whole lot better.

    Glen Davidson

  10. 10
    Goodbye Enemy Janine

    But what of all the things my body does that my mind does not want it to do?

  11. 11
    MFHeadcase

    Professor Myers, I would join your cult… at least long enough to get ordained so that I could schism off and not have to pay you a cut…

  12. 12
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Geesh, cut the nerves to his arm and see if his spirit will still move the arm. Funny how the lies and bullshit come out to prove it is something other than meatware in action.

    Real spirits are drank. *Hic*

  13. 13
    Daniel Schealler

    I think I’m going to have to start a whole school teaching these skills, so I can get paid for it.

    Don’t forget to apply for your tax exemption.

    ^_^

    I don’t know why exactly this kind of stuff fools people so easily.

    I meditate – practicing attentiveness using a controlled mental state so as to take advantage of my neurological plasticity to bring about a desired change in my general mental state.

    It’s like therapy, but cheaper.

    And yes… Makyo can be really trippy. But that’s not because they’re magic. It’s because the brain is constantly hallucinating an imperfect experience of the external world that usually maps fairly well against that world given regular correction from sensory input. But then meditative practice comes along and, in the process of teaching the brain to rewire itself along desired lines, occasionally causes this hallucination to glitch out a little bit.

    Just ignore them and carry on with the practice. Makyo are stepping stones, not revelations.

    Ah well. No helping some people.

  14. 14
    mikeg

    Of course these are real phenomena. Like Paul Nelson bending his arm, you can consciously control many aspects of your mental state (but not all; ask anyone in the throes of depression — you can’t just will yourself out of everything), and there are behaviors and ways of thinking that you can do to shift the way your brain is working.

    If there would be anything to completely slaughter a belief in dualism or spirituality it would have been my brain and behavior class. I took it after my conversion to a materialist world view (see: reality), so my thinking wasn’t radically altered- but it was beautiful to finally see the natural processes illustrated that were ascribed as belonging to the soul.

    I like looking at pain, stress, and fear for this reason. We can mirror our bodies’ physiological state when we experience these emotions simply by thinking about them. No magic there. We don’t need to invoke a spirit to explain phantom limbs. We call upon reality instead.

    Great post PZ!

  15. 15
    joed

    I’d rather have a free bottle in front of me,
    than a prefrontal lobotomy.
    and that’s no bull shit.

  16. 16
    joed

    Professor Myers, I know you are joking about the slap(assult) but not everyone on this site knows that.

  17. 17
    evilisgood

    Thank you, PZ! Having been raised in a pagan household, those posts were deeply annoying me. It’s understandable, to a degree, for some to feel more sympathy for Wicca and other neopagan religions because they are not as prominent and powerful as the Judeo-Christian religions. However, I rejected them as I rejected all the others and for the same, damn good reason: it’s all bullshit. It was weird to come on FTB and read what I interpreted as Wiccan apologetics disguised as criticism. Glad to know I am not the only person who perceived it this way.

  18. 18
    helenaconstantine

    I think he must call them spiritual exercises because that is what they have been called in English for centuries–long before a scientific explanation of them was possible. The business at the end must be getting toward the facts that belief is an emotion that heightens the effects described.

    The article was highly simplistic, and I don’t understand the sudden intrusion the paradoxical Wicccan atheist at the end, but he is making–not as well–the same point that Harris so often does, that such exercises a support a higher state of mental well being than is otherwise normally accessible. I don’t really follow the point of PZ’s post.

  19. 19
    Kel

    Would have replied to Paul Nelson, ‘great trick, now do it again without using your brain’.

  20. 20
    Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^=

    Nerd, exactly what I was thinking. It doesn’t even have to be that drastic; I have a cardiovascular disorder in which random arteries unpredictably go into spasm, drastically cutting down the blood flow to the organs(s) they usually supply. When it happens in certain parts of my brain I lose the ability to control the associated body part to a greater or lesser degree depending on the intensity and exact location of the spasm.

    He could try suffering that a few times and it’s doubtful that he’ll still believe that his body is under the control of his mind independently of his nerves.

  21. 21
    allie

    Can we entertain the possibility that Camels With Hammers has been hacked?

  22. 22
    Tom Foss

    Myersian spiritual exercises remind me of Tae Kwon Leap.

  23. 23
    Sastra

    I think the quarrel you have with the writer (Eric Steinhart) is over terminology. He’s not promoting dualism (unlike your dinner companion.). He writes

    Although it is easy to cover these spiritual exercises with many layers of unscientific or anti-natural meaning (that is, with woo), there is no need to do so. These exercises are essentially secular.

    If the title of the post had been “Psychological (or physiological) Exercises For Atheists” I doubt if any of the techniques would have tripped the b.s. detectors. From what I can tell, it’s not crap. The problem, as you point out, is the word “spiritual.”

    It’s too ambiguous. It’s a deepity: there’s a true but trivial meaning, and an extraordinary but false one — and all too often the extraordinary meaning tries to ride in on the back of the reasonable interpretation.

    I used to use the word “spiritual” to mean aesthetics, appreciation, calm, delight, and a sense of connection to others and to nature, etc. I no longer do so: the word is too loaded. But I recognize what people like Steinhart are doing, or trying to do: take the woo out of perfectly reasonable concepts and keep the traditional word. Although I don’t agree that the last part is a good idea, I think you’re being too hard on Steinhart.

  24. 24
    sosw

    I’ve read most of the posts in that series over the last couple of days(*). I don’t even mind the ones where Steinhart discusses Wicca. At least in some of them, he’s not necessarily trying to push it, and it can even be educational.

    The worst are the ones where he goes into very lengthy and elaborate logical “metaphysical” arguments. Reading them, I can’t help but mentally yell “STOP! YOU HAVEN’T JUSTIFIED THAT!” after the very first claims. I decided to merely do it mentally because the posts were quite old and someone usually had already called him on it.

    (*) I feel I have to justify this…I’ve been in bed not only sick but unable to sleep properly, and my laptop is more comfortable to read than a book; it doesn’t fall on my face every time I do fall asleep for a few minutes.

  25. 25
    feralboy12

    Would have replied to Paul Nelson, ‘great trick, now do it again without using your brain’.

    Or have him flex that arm a few times with a heavy weight in his hand, and see if he can explain why his mind is too tired to lift it any more with that arm but not the other.

  26. 26
    anteprepro

    The Wicca series is a very strange set of posts. The author said that it is supposed to be a three part series, and that he is saving criticism for the last part. He seems to present all of the ideas favorably, but he claims that is only because he is attempting to objectively present the case of Wiccan beliefs as they are believed. Yet, judging by the posts so far (of which there are 40), it seems that he is not so much intending to critique Wicca as much as appropriate it. To deflate it of superstitious ideas and woo and retain the remnants that he deems consistent with atheism. And who knows exactly how much woo will remain when the entire unnecessary exercise has been completed.

  27. 27
    sosw

    Josh wrote:

    I have no idea why he indulges him either. Steinhart apparently thinks it’s reasonable and comports with logic to state that an atheist can believe in God. Or so it seems. He’s so prolix and his post was so dense with logical symbology it was torture.

    Perhaps it would’ve satisfied him had someone (I was too late to comment as usual) spelled out explicitly that if the set of beliefs someone holds includes any single positive belief in the existence of any deity, that person is by definition not an atheist. Even if the set of beliefs includes contradictory beliefs, and even if that includes god-non-beliefs, it doesn’t matter because atheism is the absence of positive god beliefs, not the presence of god-non-beliefs.

    Perhaps someone did but I missed it. But this is also part of what other people miss about the definition of atheism.

  28. 28
    davehooke

    That Wicca series annoys me. Steinhardt says things such as atheists should have no objections to the Wiccan deity. I have plenty of objections to the idea of an “ultimate creative power of being” such as the Wiccan deity. Not simply as an atheist, but as a rational skeptic. I have a problem with every word except “of”. I don’t expect to read on Freethought Blogs of all places that such concepts are not a problem.

  29. 29
    kreativekaos

    Agree with Sastra…. ‘spirituality’ can be a loaded term. But when used in the way she suggested ( in the same way Einstein used it, as well as other rationalists have probably used it), it should specifically refer to what we find uplifting, profoundly interesting, deeply insightful, etc., etc.,… rather than a description or manifestation of some sort of supernatural core.

  30. 30
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    sosw this was clearly spelled out. It’s so ridiculous for anyone to act as if it’s controversial or unclear that “atheist” means “doesn’t believe in a God,” it doesn’t mean “believes in a God.” It’s stupid to even talk about this.

  31. 31
    Inaji

    If they complain, just tell them you were practicing your Myersian spiritual exercises.

    Oooooh, I love a good cover story. Does the offering of decayed porcupines with creative instructions for use come under the heading of Myersian spiritual exercises?

    Also, I think you should hire Brownian as an instructor for your school.

  32. 32
    becca

    some Wiccans I know weren’t that impressed with Eric Steinhart’s series on Wicca either.

  33. 33
    Daniel Fincke

    Hi PZ!

    Yes, they’re physiological exercises, Eric does not mean to say otherwise, I assure you. In fact, I was sort of surprised Eric used the word “spiritual” himself since last year he and I had a big debate about this and he insisted the woo connotations of the word “spiritual” would tag to the word no matter how much you tried to cleanse it. In the comments under the post you quoted, Eric again reiterated the point that he dislikes the word and would prefer askesis.

    I am personally more sympathetic to the idea of rehabilitating the word “spiritual” for a simple reason—people associate the word with a set of real phenomena and experiences in their lives that they give an utterly false woo interpretation. So we have a choice of two ways to correct the record. One is to say “There are no spiritual experiences” since there is no immaterial spirit to have an experience “beyond the physical”. But since a lot of people know a set of experiences they call spiritual, they think that atheists are just obtuse and don’t know or allow for those sorts of psychological experiences altogether.

    Of course we know about those experiences and how powerful they feel and how valuable they are to people. What we are denying is that they have a supernatural cause (and if you read Eric’s post he makes his denial of supernatural causes abundantly clear).

    So, what I wonder is why we should fight over this word. It has many connotations which are taken as non-literal—even by otherwise religious people. When someone, even a religious person says to me that she is in “good spirits” I don’t think they mean they are inhabited by spirits that day. People are referring to a certain sense of calm, contentment, sensory blurring, feeling of connection to things larger than themselves. They know all those things are what they are referring to. If we say to them, “we have spiritual experiences too and we understand their psychological and physiological determinants without letting that undermine their emotional satisfaction for us” I think that’s probably easier than making people give up a word they are attached to or to attack this word they are attached to. They love their “spiritual” experiences. Why say we believe in none when we do believe they happen psychologically but only give a more rationally justified and coherent account of them.

    To me it’s the same situation with morality. There are plenty of people who associate that word with all sorts of excessive absolutism or with supernatural causes. So we make the case, “you can be good without god” rather than just abandon the word morality because of guilt by association. Why not a campaign “You can be spiritual without spirit!”

    In either case, you and I and Eric all agree on the phenomena in this case, it’s a matter of the semantics and the politics.

    I’ve been meaning to say more about how the rest of what Eric is doing in his speculative series on atheism and Wicca and how it serves the goals of the atheist movement in a separate post now that my grading is finally done and I’ll take over again at my blog.

    Thanks for reading and indulging me in the meantime!

  34. 34
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    I read only the first couple of the annoying posts on Wicca. I tried to explain that other forms of neo-Paganism were far less wooish and far more suited to his purpose, but he brushed me off.

    I also tried to cut through the symbolic logic blather and explain how “Jane doesn’t believe in any gods” and “Jane believes in a personal god” are contradictory statements, but he didn’t get it.

    Also, tried to explain how defining a category and excluding from that category any thing that does not meet the definition is not a True Scotsman fallacy, but he ignored me.

  35. 35
    evilisgood

    To me it’s the same situation with morality. There are plenty of people who associate that word with all sorts of excessive absolutism or with supernatural causes. So we make the case, “you can be good without god” rather than just abandon the word morality because of guilt by association. Why not a campaign “You can be spiritual without spirit!”

    Primarily because “god” is not the root word of “good,” but “spirit” is in fact the root word of “spiritual.” It’s not about guilt by association, it’s about words meaning what they mean.

  36. 36
    Daniel Fincke

    For the record though, here was Eric’s dismissal of woo/non-materialist interpretations of the soul from yesterday, which he assumed and referred to in the post PZ quoted:

    Obviously, it’s nonsense to talk about non-physical matter.  At most these Wiccans are thinking of some sort of immaterial thinking substance.  Many philosophers have argued that the soul is an indestructible immaterial thinking substance.  Among these, Descartes is the most famous; but the idea goes back to Aquinas at least (Summa Theologica, Part 1, Q. 75-102).  It may go back even further.

    Against soul-body or mind-body dualism, many philosophers have argued for monism.  This is also known as physicalism or materialism about persons.  This materialism states that if something is a person, then it is a body.  Modern science contains a very precise and powerful Success Argument for the materialist theory of persons.  It goes like this: (1) For every function F, if any person can do F, then there is some part of the body of that person whose activity is both necessary and sufficient for the performance of F.  All your digestion is done by your guts; all your breathing is done by your lungs; and all your thinking is done by the part of your body that computes (your brain, your nervous system, your immune system).  Everything you do is done either by some part of your body or by your whole body (which is an improper part of itself).  (2) If everything you do is done by some part of your body, then you are your body.  Therefore (3) you are your body.  This argument is general: every person is identical with his or her body.

    Materialism is successful.  Of course, there is a large literature arguing for the materialist theory of persons.  You can start with Paul Churchland’s old but wonderful book Matter and Consciousness (1985).  And here it’s worth pointing out that the fact that we don’t know everything about the brain or about consciousness does not imply that there is any room for an immaterial thinking substance.  There is no empirical justification for the existence of any immaterial thinking substances.  Consequently, it is irrational to affirm that they exist.  When Cunningham and Silver Elder assert that immaterial thinking substnaces exist, they are wrong.

  37. 37
    PZ Myers

    I do not want to rehabilitate the word “spiritual”. It’s poisoned to the point of uselessness. The problem is that if we’ve got a bunch of scientists and philosophers using the word one way, with an absence of implication of the supernatural, and everyone else is using it the common way, in which it is loaded to the gills with supernatural nonsense, then everyone will be talking past each other. Furthermore, all of the mountebanks are relying on this ambiguity — see? Scientists endorse spirituality, so now my spiritual magic mysticism is legitimized.

    Also, Daniel, having read a few of Eric’s contributions, I am disgusted. Prolix bafflegab, confusion, thinly veiled attempts to rationalize pagan mysticism, and just general longwinded bullshit. Why have you invited him here? He’s awful.

  38. 38
    PZ Myers

    #36: Yeah, and then he turns around and starts prattling about Wicca. It’s bad philosophy, and no Wiccan I’ve ever met would accept a word of his interpretation of Wicca. It’s just fucking bad.

  39. 39
    Daniel Fincke

    Eric also did not mince words in another of his critical posts on Wicca:

    Sadly, the Farrars then go on through the rest of their Chapter XI of The Witch’s Way to indulge in the worst sorts of pseudo-science and woo. They talk about levels and energies and vibrations – all the expected spiritualist nonsense. Any science they mention is poorly understood and quickly perverted. They offer little more than the superstition that they say they aim to avoid in their initial quote. And most Wiccan texts are equally cognitively degenerate, shot through and through with corruptions and sicknesses of reason.

    On the face of it, Wicca is highly superstitious and deeply irrational. This irrationality runs so deep that some Wiccans have recognized as a genuine threat to their religion and have begun to try to remedy it. MacMorgan is a Wiccan who distinguishes between rational Wicca and irrational Wicca. She writes: “You’ve already seen the core belief of rational Wicca discussed, the belief that no gods would expect you to believe in things that were impossible for youto believe. This core is at the heart of a greater idea, which literally scares the worst of the New Age Wiccans, that you can be Wiccan without abandoning your senses of morality, integrity, and skepticism.” (2003: 147)

    MacMorgan is conversant with the skeptical literature and she urges subjecting Wiccan claims to experimental tests using the scientific method (2003: 213-220). She indicates that most of those claims will not pass those tests. She has scientific training and attempts to reconcile Wicca with science (2003: 221-239). This is evidence for my fifth thesis: as the Wiccan community grows larger, cognitive pressures will compel it to get rid of the woo and to seek greater scientific legitimacy.

    The anti-rational tendencies in Wicca are easy to see. Thea Sabin writes that while Wiccans acknowledge the scientifically documented patterns in nature, they “believe that in addition to these well-documented natural phenomena, there are other, less scientifically verifiable patterns in nature and in the spiritual realms” (2011: 29). She claims that Wiccans can sense “things that science can’t explain yet, like the spirits of the dead or the presence of the gods” (2011: 29). Of course, the criticisms here are easy: Sabin is making false claims about things that don’t exist. She is, unfortunately, delusional.

    Eric does posts which try to understand the structures of the thought of Wicca to see what sorts of concepts they are trying to get at. Then what he does is call bullshit on all the woo and superstition. Then he is interested in separating what true ideas Wiccans are trying to convey and he is interested in how some of their rituals and practices are interesting attempts to express and inculcate those truths. He exposes the falsehoods and tries to salvage the truths and the practices for expressing them since he thinks that (and some of our readers have confirmed that) rituals, festivals, communal groups, and meditative practices, etc. are of interest and value to them psychologically and for other legitimate purposes people have turned to illegitimate religions for. Eric’s goal is to strip away the woo and show how there are interesting practices connected to an essentially atheism compatible metaphysics underneath.

    Whether or not he can do it successfully, I don’t know. But it is not an exercise in advocating woo or confusing metaphysical categories for science or in any other way trying to undermine science or prop up authoritarianism and superstition.

  40. 40
    Inaji

    Daniel Finke:

    I am personally more sympathetic to the idea of rehabilitating the word “spiritual”

    I’m not. Right now, your blog is full to the brim with bullshit thanks to Eric, and you might want to pay attention to the first rule of holes.

  41. 41
    patrickbarrett

    In my experience, when people use words like “spiritual” or “spirituality,” it’s invariably a sign that they are, to put the best possible face on things, not thinking very clearly.

  42. 42
    PZ Myers

    “Wicca is highly superstitious and deeply irrational.” Full stop.

    You’ve got what, 40 posts now in which Eric weebles around on the subject of Wicca? I get the impression that the occasional criticism he throws out is a smokescreen for all the other pointless indulgences in Wicca worship.

    And no, Wiccan paganism is not compatible with atheism, and only a deeply confused mind would try to argue that it is.

  43. 43
    Daniel Fincke

    I do not want to rehabilitate the word “spiritual”. It’s poisoned to the point of uselessness. The problem is that if we’ve got a bunch of scientists and philosophers using the word one way, with an absence of implication of the supernatural, and everyone else is using it the common way, in which it is loaded to the gills with supernatural nonsense, then everyone will be talking past each other. Furthermore, all of the mountebanks are relying on this ambiguity — see? Scientists endorse spirituality, so now my spiritual magic mysticism is legitimized.

    Also, Daniel, having read a few of Eric’s contributions, I am disgusted. Prolix bafflegab, confusion, thinly veiled attempts to rationalize pagan mysticism, and just general longwinded bullshit. Why have you invited him here? He’s awful.

    Well, of course I’m sorry you feel that way. I know Eric very well, he’s a very close friend and a colleague and I know without a doubt he loathes fundamentalism and its noxious influence as much as you do.

    But the metaphysics he is describing, when not confused with science as it probably is in the people you encounter in the public square who muddle metaphysics and science, is not beyond the pale at all. It is mainstream, realist metaphysics that gives full-blooded support to rationalistic naturalism. It is counter-intuitive because it involves a high level of abstraction. And sometimes he is just confounding to me too. But the metaphysics he is citing is current stuff out of Oxford and Cambridge and proto-atheistic stuff from Aristotle, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Buddhist philosophy, etc.

    Metaphysics leads to strange places. Even if we become metaphysical minimalists one risks running into severe incoherencies in our concepts. To avoid them, realists need to make some strange sounding claims to square our concepts, but they’re in principle no stranger than some of what I hear from physicists. Yes, physicists have a whole lot of math and experiments to moor some of the strangeness. Metaphysicians do the best they can with logic and conceptual analysis.

  44. 44
    PZ Myers

    Also, another thing to think about is that all this Eric crap makes your blog deeply uninteresting…except in the same pathological way that Ray Comfort’s or Deepak Chopra’s attract attention: so we can point and laugh.

  45. 45
    PZ Myers

    Then Eric is doing a very good job of convincing me that metaphysics is a total waste of time.

  46. 46
    Inaji

    Daniel Finke:

    Metaphysics leads to strange places. Even if we become metaphysical minimalists one risks running into severe incoherencies in our concepts.

    FFS, you sound like a Chopra wannabe. You need more quantum in that pile of crap.

  47. 47
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Daniel, he may be a very close friend, and you might his posts interesting, but he really is prolix. To the point of being boring often – it’s like watching someone work out a very idiosyncratic obsession by talking to themselves out loud. You are a much clearer and better writer. I enjoy many of your posts, but CW is absolutely bogged down with Eric’s excessive prose lately.

  48. 48
    anteprepro

    I wasn’t going to post this originally, but if cherry picking the more skeptical of Steinhart’s comments is good enough to defend this series, I suppose we should also look at the bad stuff, right? “Cutting edge metaphysics” isn’t sufficient to justify all of this. Please, anyone, show me that these don’t actually mean what they seem to mean.

    It’s all about the ritual, baby (and also all about those sweet, sweet noble lies):

    Atheists tend to downplay the practical and social aspects of religion in favor of focusing on the cognitive aspects. And that’s unfortunate. The practical and social aspects of religion are probably the main aspects for most people. Religion helps people solve all sorts of biological regulatory problems (e.g. the regulation of diet, sex, violence); it helps with social identity formation and group regulation. It works deeply at the boundaries of the biological self: birth, death, reproduction, and the boundary of the self and its group.

    Religion serves certain purposes for life, and if atheism wants to flourish, it will have to serve those same purposes. …..

    People need to have ceremonies to mark birth, marriage, and death. People need socially sanctioned regulatory mechanisms for emotions and for biological urges to sex and violence. Most people need comforting rituals that either hold out the hope of having some power in the face of personal powerlessness (and the suffering that goes with it) or at least make personal powerlessness meaningful or dignified. And people need holidays. Any effort to satisfy those needs leads to religion-building.

    On sacred, holy creative powers and how that’s totally up atheism’s alley:

    Natural creative power (natura naturans) is the ultimate immanent creative power of being. This concept is found in atheistic philosophers like Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Donald Crosby. On my previous analysis of the relevant Wiccan texts, it is also found in Wicca as the ultimate Wiccan deity. For religious naturalists like Crosby, it is an atheistic concept of the divine; it is an atheistic concept of the sacred or holy. Natural creative power is not the theistic deity (and certainly not the Christian or Abrahamic God). After all, any theistic deity is a thing (a particular), while natural creative power is a universal….
    Religious naturalists have reverence and admiration for natural creative power, especially as it is manifest in the myriad forms of life on earth. Natural creative power is not a thing; therefore, it is not a god. But it is holy, sacred, and divine. Atheists are not prohibited from affirming the existence of holy, sacred, or divine powers. Nominalists and positivists might be prohibited; but there’s no reason atheists have to listen to them.

    This last one is a doozy…
    Don’t you guys know? Things that reproduce themselves only produce things that are as good or better. Philosophy proves that maladaptive mutations, aneuploidy, and recessive genetic disorders are impossible! Also, humans evolution was pre-destined by Rationality. Also also: Superhumans must exist. And all of the above is consistent with science:

    Rationality opposes all forms of inconsistency or self-contradiction. For any possible version of the original object, if that version modifies the nature of the original object by introducing some inconsistency or self-contradiction into that nature, then the original object contains a reason to prevent the existence of that version, and it will not produce that version. Any version of the original object that is produced by the original object also contains the nature of the original object; it contains within its essence the PSR and the PP. To use a biological metaphor, the PSR and PP are replicated in the offspring of the original object.

    It seems reasonable to say that it is self-contradictory for any object to produce any lesser version of itself. Productivity cannot be self-negation. It is self-contradictory (and thus irrational) for any object to produce any other object whose nature is a damaged, mutilated, restricted, or perverted version of its own nature…. Of course, if there are many objects interacting to produce a single object, then those many objects may have their own conflicting reasons, and damage or perversion may arise out of that conflict. A virus and a cell have their own natures; conflicts among the reasons in those natures may lead to harmful mutations in the cell or to the destruction of the virus….
    Hence the Principle of Plenitude (PP) entails that for every possible version of any object, if there is any way that version is greater than the original object, then that greater version exists. Since the original object is simple, it is minimal with respect to complexity….Thus the PP entails that for every possible version of the original object, if that version is more complex than the original object, then that more complex object exists. The offspring of the original object are more complex versions of itself…

    Generation upon generation, the iteration of the Principle of Plenitude will produce ever more complex physical universes. Within them, highly complicated material structures will appear and interact. These will all contain their own natures, their own rational wills, which strive for their own types of greatness, and which may come into conflict. An example is Darwinian evolution on earth, in which each organism strives to reproduce its kind, or to maximize its own number of offspring, and in which those many strivings cooperate or compete, thus ensuring the survival of the fittest. Thus being-itself eventually manifests itself in evolution by natural selection on the planet earth. The conflicts among the strivings of organisms lead to both good and evil consequences.

    Conflict is good insofar as it drives evolution to greater heights of value. For instance, conflicts among the strivings (the rational wills) of organisms drive evolution from the unicellular level up to the appearance of rational animals like human beings. Thus the objective rationality in being-itself successfully wills the existence of things which can orient their own wills by their own reason. Objective reason, which is impersonal and unconscious, becomes personal and conscious, and experiences itself as such….

    The metaphysical theory presented here and in the last post is atheistic… It is entirely consistent with our best physical and biological science. Atheists, whether they are interested in Wicca or not, are free to affirm this metaphysical theory

    Either:
    - I am stupid as fuck when it comes to reading comprehension.
    OR
    -Eric Steinhart is a poor communicator and doesn’t actually mean what these quotes suggest (and thus he either needs to clarify jargon better or needs to make it clear what his position is instead of the position of a hypothetical Wiccan).
    OR
    -Eric Steinhart is wholeheartedly and uncritically presenting us with blatant faitheism and pseudoscientific woo.

    Please, tell me it is one of the former two. Show me that he doesn’t actually mean this shit and isn’t as ignorant as he seems.

  49. 49
    anteprepro

    I may be stupid as fuck, I suppose. Last blockquote is supposed to end before “Either:” in #48. Also, that last link looks much uglier than I anticipated, and I apologize for the length of that lost blockquote. Jesusfuck, it’s long.

  50. 50
    Daniel Fincke

    “Wicca is highly superstitious and deeply irrational.” Full stop.

    You’ve got what, 40 posts now in which Eric weebles around on the subject of Wicca? I get the impression that the occasional criticism he throws out is a smokescreen for all the other pointless indulgences in Wicca worship.

    And no, Wiccan paganism is not compatible with atheism, and only a deeply confused mind would try to argue that it is.

    No, the criticisms are not occasional. They are only occasionally concentrated as a full post. He writes some posts which are simply exposition. Let me quote Dan Dennett from your blog a week ago to sum up what Eric is doing:

    And I, of the four… usually in my career, I’ve been the bad cop; this is when I get to play good cop. I’ve been much more sympathetic to the fact that religions could do a lot of good for a lot of people, and we should keep close track of that, and try to find alternative ways of doing that good work, while I agree completely with the three about the evils. But I have wanted to stress the fact that it’s a mixed phenomenon and we should take seriously that good stuff that comes of it.

    If you think about it as a natural phenomenon, then you realize there are other natural phenomena like this too. Floods are terrible, but sometimes floods are good; they have a good side to them. Parasites can actually be good for you if you are too clean – if your childhood is too clean then you’re going to succumb; you should spend a little time in the mud and the dirt. These things are known, and I think that we should acknowledge that and not be afraid to acknowledge that there are times when the support that a religion can provide to an individual or a community or a nation is extremely valuable. It’s like medicine – strong medicine can have a really bad side effect, but sometimes you need a strong medicine.

    I am like you, PZ. I am the kind of atheist writer who never wants to be confuse anyone for a second that I find a literal falsehood literally false.

    But if you were reading a book on what Wiccans believe or what Christians believe, of course the book—even if it were critical—would spend long stretches just expositing the religion.

    And I agree wholeheartedly with what Dennett and Steinhart want to do insofar as they want to look at what sorts of concepts people are trying to convey and what sorts of practices do actually good amidst all the horrible stuff and see how we can meet those needs without authoritarianism, superstition, etc.

    To really do that, you have to pinch your nose and actually study the logic of the concepts and all these practices, etc. and figure out what they really mean psychologically and philosophically and figure out how to address people’s psychological needs rationally and strip the myths out of their metaphysics for any grains of truth.

    Now, I agree with your emperor’s new clothes argument. Understanding the “sophisticated” versions of religions is not about vindicating their literal truth. And when philosophers and theologians tinker with the conceptual structures they are not talking about what the literalist parishioner in the pew means. There is an equivocation. That makes my blood boil much as it does yours, I assure you.

    But there is a different task for the sake of the anthropology, psychology, and philosophy of religion and that is to understand how people with deluded literal beliefs can function in the world despite them and even derive some benefits from this practice. You and I and the rest of FTB are all about exposing the drawbacks of those practices. But there are important tasks, just for the sake of truth, of understanding how operationally literally false beliefs can convey metaphorical truths and have real world practical benefits. There is a place for this in the study of religions and a place for this in the criticism of religions.

    What do I mean about conveying metaphorical truths? Well, to be simple, people for centuries talked (and still talk) about traits “being transmitted in the blood”. Now we know about genes. Genes are literally true. But say some people literally believed the falsehood about blood transmitting traits. There could be some effectiveness in predictions and reasoning about things that way. No where within a galaxy of the precision of genome science, but a basic truth is understood. And certain practices while literally false serve functional mechanisms that are rationally desirable. If we are interested in truth, in maximally improving human life, and in coping with the kinds of defective brains humans have, then it behooves us to figure out just what sorts of concepts religious people do effectively convey inspite of their own superstitions and how those help them orient to the world in ways that work despite their falseness. And it behooves us to see how all the mechanisms really work psychologically and to figure out ways to get any benefits that only they may provide but without superstition.

    To do this, you need to write like a patient academic, as Eric is, not as an activist blogger like the rest of FTB (including me, half the time).

    This is all he’s doing. I assure you, he’s not superstitious in the least. He does have some strange metaphysical ideas but he’s well aware of the line between metaphysics and science, he publishes in peer review publications on metaphysics and philosophy of religion, he wrote an important book on metaphor, and he has a lot of technical scholarship backed up by the presses at Oxford and Cambridge to support some of his counter-intuitive conclusions. He is not a crank. I would not have him on my blog if he were.

  51. 51
    Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^=

    I’m afraid that much of what Daniel Fincke has to say has me somewhat bemused.

    1.

    Metaphysics leads to strange places.

    You don’t say…

    2.

    Even if we become metaphysical minimalists one risks running into severe incoherencies in our concepts. To avoid them, realists need to make some strange sounding claims to square our concepts, but they’re in principle no stranger than some of what I hear from physicists.

    I have learnt that the stuff physicists say sounds strange to me because I am ignorant. I am slowly trying to remedy that ignorance by learning some physics. I’m not trying to claim that physics is as groundless as metaphysics because I’m ignorant.

    3.

    Yes, physicists have a whole lot of math and experiments to moor some of the strangeness. Metaphysicians do the best they can with logic and conceptual analysis.

    Metaphysicians? Are they medical staff who treat poorly auras?

  52. 52
    Daniel Fincke

    Metaphysicians? Are they medical staff who treat poorly auras?

    No they are academics who write rigorous, logical conceptual analysis at all the elite (and normal) universities in the English speaking world and beyond. And it would be nice if atheists did not consign all metaphysics in the public consciousness to the woo-peddlers who pass off bullshit as metaphysics.

  53. 53
    anteprepro

    Metaphysicians? Are they medical staff who treat poorly auras?

    Sounds about right. Reminds me of an old quote. How does it go…

    “Metaphysician, metaheal thyself”.

    Or perhaps it was “Metaphysician, metastasize thyself”. Something along those lines.

  54. 54
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Daniel is right that metaphysics is not synonymous with supernaturalism. We should avoid reacting the way some in the blogosphere have lately wrt philosophy —- writing off philosophy as useless wankery because some philosophers make stupid blunders (and we happen to hear about those more than we hear about any other philosophical activity).

  55. 55
    Inaji

    Daniel Fincke:

    And it would be nice if atheists did not consign all metaphysics in the public consciousness to the woo-peddlers who pass off bullshit as metaphysics.

    It would be nice if one particular atheist, you, would recognize that all Eric has been doing, at tedious length, is to pour out bullshit passed off as metaphysics, instead of defending such nonsense.

  56. 56
    Shplane, Spess Alium

    I remember when Camels With Hammers was mostly pretty readable. Occasionally indulging in some goofy philosophical gibberish, but nobody’s perfect.

    Now, though? It’s utterly unreadable.

  57. 57
    Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^=

    Why aren’t they metaphysicists, then?

    So where can I read this rigorous, logical conceptual analysis then?

    Please, I would be fascinated to read some metaphysics that isn’t bullshit.

  58. 58
    Daniel Fincke

    PZ writes
    Also, another thing to think about is that all this Eric crap makes your blog deeply uninteresting…except in the same pathological way that Ray Comfort’s or Deepak Chopra’s attract attention: so we can point and laugh.

    Well, for what it’s worth, Eric shares your contempt for the likes of Comfort and Chopra.

    As for the blog being uninteresting, I disagree. But I understand that a month+ long series on the same basic theme might seem taxing. He is essentially writing a book, one post at a time.

    Then Eric is doing a very good job of convincing me that metaphysics is a total waste of time.

    Some philosophers agree. I am myself not a metaphysician and don’t work on it much at all and used to be rather anti-metaphysical. But I have been persuaded of some important metaphysical points by Eric. I assure you he knows his stuff. We’re talking about two very different disciplines, biology and philosophy. I don’t ever feel the need to know all the minutaie of what biologists know—I’m just excited by the big themes relevant to my life and to philosophy. It is in some ways at least just a matter of the same thing in reverse here. But you do care about metaphysics even if you don’t cognize it that way. In fact, you do a lot of it. In fact, I’m not making this up, it was your own philosophical, metaphysical arguments against fetal personhood that finally made me unqualifiedly in favor of abortion as not only legally necessary but fully morally approvable. And your debate with Coyne and others about whether anything could count for evidence of God was deeply metaphysical and epistemological.

    So, you do care about the subject. But, look, it’s like biology, there’s what a highly educated outsider to the discipline can manage and then there’s the technical nitty gritty. To get into that you need to go beyond the punchy, accessible, blog worthy stuff and get arcane.

    Personally, I find Eric’s expositions clear and illuminating in a way no other metaphysics I read is. But, I’m a philosopher. I’ll leave it to readers to judge. Our readership has not sagged.

    Josh says:

    Daniel, he may be a very close friend, and you might his posts interesting, but he really is prolix. To the point of being boring often – it’s like watching someone work out a very idiosyncratic obsession by talking to themselves out loud. You are a much clearer and better writer. I enjoy many of your posts, but CW is absolutely bogged down with Eric’s excessive prose lately.

    Well, it’s my fault. I told him that while I was still finishing grading he should blast the blog. Up until that point he was writing a post a day only. He is also writing so many posts in part because he’s keeping them short because he does not think people have the patience for long posts. But writing short posts leads to redundancies as he catches people up.

  59. 59
    Tigger_the_Wing, Back home =^_^=

    Here’s a worthwhile (meta) question:

    Why did it take ten minutes for my last comment to appear, during which time people far more intelligent than I made much better comments?

  60. 60
    PZ Myers

    Let’s put this in purely pragmatic terms. We brought you into FtB because we like what YOU write. If Eric had a blog of his own that was full of that same longwinded, tedious nonsense that now fills the bulk of your page, we would not have been at all interested in inviting him here. It’s your choice, but what I see is a once interesting blog that has been filled up with dreary sawdust by really boring guest blogger. No one is going to kick you out for the experiment, but you face an even worse fate: people will stop reading you.

    And in terms of content, no, I don’t quite swallow your excuses. the guy is throwing out this massive wall of contradictory incoherence…you can pick and choose and find bits where he’s advocating rationality, and then you can find piles of words where he’s defending Wicca. It’s like “spirituality”: building a new academic definition that doesn’t conform to the way people actually use the words is NOT helpful. It provides scholarly cover for frauds and ignorance.

  61. 61
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Daniel,

    Much of this may be that Eric’s writing project is not well-suited to the blog format. Blogs are not books, and blog posts are not book chapters. Yes, many important things in a discipline require much longer examination than your typical short blog post. But it very much feels . . . well, exactly like Eric is writing the draft of a book, not engaging in blogging. I don’t know how to characterize it more precisely but there’s something very distant and disconnected about it.

    Not everyone is well-suited to blogging. It takes a certain facility with a conversational tone (no, I don’t mean dumbed down, it’s not that) and perhaps that’s not Eric’s strong suit. You’re much better at it.

  62. 62
    PZ Myers

    But you do care about metaphysics even if you don’t cognize it that way. In fact, you do a lot of it. In fact, I’m not making this up, it was your own philosophical, metaphysical arguments against fetal personhood that finally made me unqualifiedly in favor of abortion as not only legally necessary but fully morally approvable.

    OK. So there is good, intelligent, persuasive metaphysics, like mine. And then there is bad, boring, unreadable metaphysics, like Eric’s. I will accept that point and not discard metaphysics entirely.

  63. 63
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    It’s like “spirituality”: building a new academic definition that doesn’t conform to the way people actually use the words is NOT helpful.

    This is very, very important and should be taken to heart. It simply is not possible to rehabilitate the word “spiritual” in contemporary North America. Certainly not by academics whom the majority of people will never read. It’s actively counterproductive because the religious majority always has and always will co-opt you for their own benefit. See? Even those atheists are actually really spiritual!

    This is a trap that too many academics naively fall into. It’s the same feckless disconnect with the larger culture that causes Einstein to talk about God playing dice, or gets the Higgs boson labeled “the God particle.” And it’s crazy-making. I wish smart people wouldn’t do this.

  64. 64
    rorschach

    Our readership has not sagged.

    Fincke seems surprisingly pleased to have been called out here.

    But it very much feels . . . well, exactly like Eric is writing the draft of a book, not engaging in blogging.

    Precisely.

  65. 65
    Pen

    I don’t particularly feel like waging war over the word ‘spiritual’. Anyway, whenever I hear the word ‘psychology’ I think of that girl in the Greek myth. Good grief, it means the exact same thing as spirit, and I’m inevitably aware of that origin when I use the word. If I had to say there was a difference I would say psychology is the science of the mind and spirituality is the experience of the mind.

    But words don’t mean what they mean, they mean what a consensus of people use them to mean. Here we’re explicitly arguing over what the consensus is to be, or whether it is to be changed.

  66. 66
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    No, I think we know what the consensus means – they mean something much friendly to religion and faith than what Eric means. And I don’t think we can change the consensus. This is not “waging war” over the meaning of spiritual. It’s an argument that failing to recognize the consensus meaning and how it’s used for religious propaganda is an error that has consequences most of us won’t like.

  67. 67
    feralboy12

    It’s like “spirituality”: building a new academic definition that doesn’t conform to the way people actually use the words is NOT helpful.

    Living in Eugene, Oregon, for 30+ years, I’ve heard that word plenty often. I don’t think people here are going to let me re-define it for them.
    And when they use the word, be they Wiccan, pagan, Christian or miscellaneous (sorry Hindus) they’re invariably referring to some sort of magical, non-physical “connection” with the physical universe, as well as some kind of undying “self” not necessarily dependent on the physical body.
    I also take exception to the characterization of the materialist viewpoint as boiling down to you are your body. I’m not sure if the study of the phenomenon of emergence qualifies as metaphysics, but to believe that “I” am an emergent property of the interaction of a network of components is neither spiritual nor, in my definition, metaphysical.
    As for reading such long, dry dissertations on Wicca, I see no reason, given any sort of time restraints, to learn that much about it; I can’t put that much time into every religion, and why should Wicca be anything special? It’s fine that it’s there, and I have access to it, but once I get in the habit of ignoring a blog, it can be hard to break.

  68. 68
    anteprepro

    On spirituality: It’s a hodge-podge of things, and believers rely on that.
    Spirituality is the things that atheists don’t do: Prayer, meditation, acknowledging a greater power, feeling like part of a bigger plan, accessing one’s own inner spirit, experiencing the divine and respecting the sacred.
    Spirituality is striving towards the big things that a lot of people want: Meaning, peace, happiness, emotional well-being, calmness, love, feeling connected to other people.
    Spirituality is having the qualities that most decent humans have: Moral sensibilities, self-reflection, open-mindedness, empathy.

    So, the majority of humans are spiritual by the last two definitions, but the majority of atheists don’t fit the first category of spiritual actions. So we are left to either:
    -Fight for our right to be considered technically “spiritual” in senses that don’t pertain to religious ideology and thus identify freely as spiritual atheists.
    -Note that there is no reason to believe that any of the things in the last two categories are related to one another or to the religious ideology and activities in the first category, and fight to free these secular concepts from the grubby paws of quasi-religious “spirituality”.

    I would suggest we do the latter. Because I’m fucking sick of “spirituality” being trotted out as an indicator of good character. You should only be allowed to get so far on a fuzzy definition and a slew of positive connotations.

  69. 69
    Daniel Fincke

    Let’s put this in purely pragmatic terms. We brought you into FtB because we like what YOU write. If Eric had a blog of his own that was full of that same longwinded, tedious nonsense that now fills the bulk of your page, we would not have been at all interested in inviting him here. It’s your choice, but what I see is a once interesting blog that has been filled up with dreary sawdust by really boring guest blogger. No one is going to kick you out for the experiment, but you face an even worse fate: people will stop reading you.

    In all sincerity, I appreciate the support (and that you brought me on in the first place despite some of my very strong disagreements with you early last year). I do believe you back up your claims that you tolerate approaches different from your own, as evidenced by your taking me on here.

    Our readership has not actually dipped with Eric blogging and we have picked up a certain demographic of reader that likes what he is doing, which we have been hearing from. And, like I said, I will be the predominant voice on the blog again starting today. We will see how much Eric will post once his series has wound down.

    And in terms of content, no, I don’t quite swallow your excuses. the guy is throwing out this massive wall of contradictory incoherence…you can pick and choose and find bits where he’s advocating rationality, and then you can find piles of words where he’s defending Wicca. It’s like “spirituality”: building a new academic definition that doesn’t conform to the way people actually use the words is NOT helpful. It provides scholarly cover for frauds and ignorance.

    Well, yes, he can be quote-mined. But read in context all his praise for Wicca is consistently qualified by his criticisms and his clear distinctions about what specifically is good there and why. The belief in “magic” or a pseudo-scientific “energy” are never endorsed. What is always endorsed is what underlies it. And he makes the argument that Wicca’s structure is such that they want to be naturalistic and have internal mechanisms that could lead them to make it more rationalistic and dump the woo. He says he has no idea if they will go that route, but he is providing those rationalistic Wiccans who would be interested in that with a road map to do it philosophically. He is not aiming to give cover to fraud. It is an open question whether in practice that’s an actual consequence. I doubt it, given the audience he has here, but I can’t prove it. All I can ask is, do you think that any academic treatment of a religion’s conceptual structures in philosophical terms can be done without eo ipso giving cover to frauds? Or is it just Eric’s loose mingling of descriptions with prescriptions, and of a woo-ish religion with academic philosophy?

    OK. So there is good, intelligent, persuasive metaphysics, like mine. And then there is bad, boring, unreadable metaphysics, like Eric’s. I will accept that point and not discard metaphysics entirely.

    Well, that’s a step in the right direction anyway!

    Okay everyone, I’m going to check out of this thread now and tend to my own blog. I appreciate you all hearing me out.

  70. 70
    anteprepro

    By the way: Our third option is to let the current conception of “spirituality” stand unchallenged, and to not try to plea for the technical “spirituality” of atheists nor point out the weakness of the association between the objectively positive elements and the less objectively positive “spiritual” religious practices/feelings. Not addressing the problem by either of the above routes means that “spirituality” will forever be seen as an inherent good and will mean that atheists will be seen as the only group that is inherently not spiritual. I’m sure it’s clear why that is not an acceptable state of affairs…

  71. 71
    Susannah

    Steinhart writes (quoted in comment #48):

    Natural creative power is not a thing; therefore, it is not a god. But it is holy, sacred, and divine. Atheists are not prohibited from affirming the existence of holy, sacred, or divine powers.

    Define holy. Without referring to a deity, either directly or by implication.

    Define sacred. Without referring to a deity, either directly or by implication.

    Define divine. Without referring to a deity, either directly or by implication.

  72. 72
    Gwynnyd

    “Daniel said @ 69- The belief in “magic” or a pseudo-scientific “energy” are never endorsed. What is always endorsed is what underlies it”

    But NOTHING underlies it except logical exercises that do not seem to have any, you know, reality. To me, the woo level of saying “The Principal of Plentitude begets nature” is no different from saying “Goddidit.”

    “Principal of Plentitude” still sounds like a McGuffin in a bad steampunk novel to me.

    Show me a device to suck the Plentitude out of the Principal (especially if it has to be transported by airship) toss in some interesting characters and decent plot and I may revise my idea of whether or not it is a bad McGuffin, but it’s still no more than that.

    Reading those posts is like watching a train wreck.

  73. 73
    Kamaka

    The “authorities” of Wicca are a bunch of bullshit artists.

    The Farrars? Really? The only critical investigation they warrant is how they get away with pretending to be authoritative enough to sell books.

    That goes for the lot of them…Starhawk, Buckland, Sanders, Selena Fox (I took the “How to be a tenth generation hereditary witch” class with her), and the original big (self-admitted) bullshitter Gerald Gardener.

    Really, it’s your choice, Fincke, to let a Wiccan apologist hijack your blog, pretending to explore “spirituality”. Wicca is intellectually and morally bankrupt and you make a fool of yourself giving a platform to such nonsense.

  74. 74
    anuran

    PZ, remember your discussion with Alan Moore and how he explained that he believed in magic but not the supernatural? “Magic” is a slippery word with several technical definitions. “Spiritual” is another. The abilities to enter mental and emotional states and to perceive in unusual although still physiological ways are “spiritual” according to some of these.

    It doesn’t require a non-physical spirit distinct from the body. It does require methods which allow one to use the brain to control aspects of the behavior of the brain and the rest of the body. We can’t do a lot of this directly. “I will now release epinephrine and serotonin” doesn’t quite work. You have to train the brain to do things which cause these to happen. Whether you call it “mental” or “spiritual” is a question of labels which may or may not be useful.

    Practicing Buddhists meditators experience long-term measurable changes in brain function and chemistry. It’s been well-documented in the real peer-reviewed neurological literature. So do Sufi dervishes. So do crazy atheistic British wizards. The different training methods they use produce different physical, cognitive and emotional changes.

    The symbols and sounds and exercises don’t actually call up Tara and Manju Sri or an external power from the 99 most beautiful Names or the broken vessels of the Sefiroth. But they do allow a human mind which works better with symbols and sensory cues to associate them with particular states or functions and invoke them more readily.

    Or consider your son in the military. Much of his training was emotional and mental. He learned to perform complex actions and operate at high efficiency under extreme stress and confusion. The use of symbols, signs and rituals was instrumental in this. It’s not necessary that all the things he was told be literally true. What is important is that he accepted them at the time, for long enough to make the magic work. What came out the other end of that process was a professional soldier, a person different in many ways from the civilian he was a few months before.

    Our language is clumsy at differentiating and cataloging all of these changes. So we look at an emergent property of the complicated physical thing called Myers 2.0 and label that his “spirit”.

  75. 75
    Marcus Ranum

    realist metaphysics

    is that like the military intelligence jumbo shrimp?

  76. 76
    Marcus Ranum

    This seems like it ought to be fairly straightforward. Any truth-claims of Wicca can be substantiated with evidence, and then we’re done, right?

  77. 77
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I need to get drunk more than I need to read this thread — I can’t tell if Steinhart or anyone is really advocating a new meaning of spirituality; if they are, then I’m against it, and SpokesGay’s arguments are sufficient — but I’d like to offer something from Steinhart that I enjoyed:

    The Ontological Argument Against God

  78. 78
    anuran

    Or consider the Tibetan Fire Meditation.

    It works. It absolutely, repeatably and verifiably works. Practitioners can raise their temperature. We know the mechanisms involved in how they raise BMR. I used to be able to, but losing that ability was an unexpected casualty of having my cancerous thyroid whacked out some years back.

    The training methods involve visualization and invocation of “deities”. Nobody seriously says there are little fire gods glaring out from every cell in your body. But doing the exercises and acting as if they do for the moment gives one the “hook” on which to hang a complicated set of biochemical changes which would not be accessible through simply saying “I will now increase thyroxine production and a dozen other things.”

  79. 79
    anuran

    #75 Marcus,

    Methaphysics is a branch of philosophy dealing with meaning and the nature of the world and existence. It is absolutely concerned with what is real and realistic. At least it’s that way for everyone who got past the clever word game stage of sophomore Phil classes.

    The creation of Science as a discipline was due in many ways to a revolution in metaphysics and the abandonment of older metaphysical precepts.

  80. 80
    Kamaka

    @ anuran #74

    Nice apologetic.

    I wouldn’t have a problem with the “magick-makers” if they sold it as a method of mental exercise…but they don’t. They play the “I am a guru” game to sell their books and their egos.

    The Dalai Lama may very well have something to teach the world, but it gets completely lost in the “holier-than-thou” routine.

  81. 81
    Kamaka

    anuran @ 78

    Or consider the Tibetan Fire Meditation.

    It works. It absolutely, repeatably and verifiably works. Practitioners can raise their temperature.

    Auto-hypnosis…it’s not a big deal.

  82. 82
    evilisgood

    Kamaka:

    Thank you for saying everything I was about to say. You are awesome.

  83. 83
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    magic

    Long, long time ago, people tried to make sense of their environment and make an effort to control it for their own benefit. Some of the things that they did worked, others did not (as much as they continued to try and place their hopes upon them).

    We have moved on since then. Our knowledge of our environment has evolved. The “magic” that worked, that really helped us to consistently deal with our material circumstances we call “science”. That bullshit we would reallyreallyreally like to work but never will, we now call “metaphysics”. (If we interpose an imaginary god into metaphysics we call it religion.)

    spirituality

    We would like our emotional world to correlate to reality in some way. Some might hope that there is another way to see the world, other than governed by the hard discipline of science, and that it somehow still remains relevant. Sadly most undertakings under this heading are misguided and carry a lot of dead baggage. We have already had quite a substantial thread on what we should chose to fill the void left by our not using this word (and there certainly is a need for such a term).
    “Trippy”, anyone?

  84. 84
    anuran

    Kamaka

    This isn’t Rumplestiltskin. By giving something a name you don’t get to trivialized it. It’s a considerable achievement that involves a lot more than opening surface blood vessels or ignoring pain. I’ll bet you can’t do it at all let alone quickly and repeatably. Being able to say “Sound waves, no big deal” doesn’t make you Jimi Hendrix.

  85. 85
    anuran

    A lot of honest people in the magic brain hacking business are up front about it. There was one teacher of esoteric Buddhism I studied with all-too-briefly. I asked him “Should I think of these as abstractions? Symbols? Teaching exercises? Beings? Actual gods?”

    He said “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! No! No! No! No! No!”

    The point is, each of those is a necessary fiction, a step which is useful at a certain point to bring about a useful change in the student. Whether there actually was or wasn’t such a supernatural Buddhist Guardian is completely irrelevant.

  86. 86
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ Kamaka

    The Dalai Lama may very well have something to teach the world,…

    I very much doubt it. (Oppressing peasants and living the high life they got down pat for hundreds of years. But other than helping themselves and their clique? Meh…)

  87. 87
    Kamaka

    anuran @ 84

    This isn’t Rumplestiltskin. By giving something a name you don’t get to trivialized it.

    Except for “wishing that wishing would work”, all of “magick” is auto-hypnosis.

    I’ll bet you can’t do it at all let alone quickly and repeatably.

    Umm, of course I can, and so could you if you weren’t so hysterical about it. Auto-hypnosis is quite simple. The techniques aren’t generally known, is all. And that’s because the folks who know how are busy pretending they are gurus.

  88. 88
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ anuran

    Here is something anyone can try at home: Linky to autogenic relaxation.

    The sensations you have you actually talk yourself into. Warmth, heaviness… not really happening, but the end goal is to just help one to relax. A little fib to help one snooze. (Or is one simply bored to sleep?)

  89. 89
    anuran

    Hysterical? Hardly. I’m being matter of fact about physical practice. It’s a difficult skill to learn but a repeatable and potentially useful one.

    So do it. You’ve made a claim. Now back it up empirically. You say it’s easy.

    Sit out side in the snow and ice naked and raise your core temperature five or ten degrees in a couple minutes. While you’re at it, have people wrap you with wet cloths. Since you know the word “autohypnosis” it should be a cinch.

    It really isn’t that easy.

    Besides, if you look at what psychologists have to say about “hypnosis” you’ll find that it’s changed a lot over the last few decades. Many now say there really is no such thing. Others say that what we once called “hypnosis” is an inaccurately vague and overbroad blanket term for a number of more-or-less related things. A yogi’s mental exercises are very different in method and effect than a sniper’s or a Ch’an practitioner’s.

  90. 90
    Kamaka

    A lot of honest people in the magic brain hacking business are up front about it.

    Hahaha…

    The *magic-brain-hacking-business* ( I should ™ that line, even though it’s not mine) has no honest people. Their claims to a higher purpose fall short when they play the guru game.

    I repeat, auto-hypnosis is simple. Guru/preacher sales tactics make the simple seem Other-Worldly.

  91. 91
    John Morales

    [meta]

    In this one, I side with Daniel Fincke, rather than PZ.

    (Some days, I’ve spent more time there than here)

  92. 92
    Kamaka

    Sit out side in the snow and ice naked and raise your core temperature five or ten degrees in a couple minutes. While you’re at it, have people wrap you with wet cloths. Since you know the word “autohypnosis” it should be a cinch.

    Oh, please, you haven’t witnessed such a thing, much less done it.

    The Other-Worldly bullshit sales tactics have sucked you in.

  93. 93
    anuran

    theophontes,

    I’ve been around the block enough to have done that years ago. The relaxation, pain tolerance and false sensation stuff is baby steps.

    That’s why I mention some of these other things that are quite a bit more difficult to learn and require more sophistication.

    The Fire Meditation stuff produces gross, objective results which can and have been directly measured. The Dutch and American cold-water swimmers whose names escape me do the same thing using somewhat different triggers.

    The long-term physiological changes in the brains of Thai Buddhist practitioners are also nice because they are, once again, measurable and falsifiable. It’s not just self-reported subjective feelings. It’s changes in the action and actual organ of the amygdala and other parts of the brain brought about by their exercises over the long term.

    Are these “spiritual”? Dunno. What do you mean by that word? I don’t want to get too far into the definition game, but

    Saying “It’s mental” or “It’s physiological” is true but not terribly helpful. That’s just saying the brain and the rest of the body respectively are involved. Diagramming a sentence, entering a coma, peristalsis, playing the piano and walking all involve the brain and body. One label for all of these may be accurate in some sense. It’s not terribly useful. Terminology which groups these actions and connects ones which share a quality can tell you something that is more than trivially true.

  94. 94
    anuran

    You can put a plank across a pothole or build a self-supporting suspension bridge.

    Kamaka would dismissively say “It’s all statics, dynamics and strength of materials. Once you know that it’s trivial. And that’s all you need to know to build a bridge”

    Even building a simple footbridge takes certain skills. The Akashi Kaikyō Bridge takes a lot more. Even mastery of all of first year statics and S.O.M. and second year dynamics won’t give you what you need to successfully do it. You quickly find out that some tasks are more difficult and complex than others.

    The same is true of tasks involving your brain and the rest of your body.

  95. 95
    Kamaka

    Blockquote fail. Dammit.

    The very idea that you would play the “sit outside in the snow” card, tells me everything I need to know about you in this alleged discussion.

    You know nothing of auto-hypnosis nor any of the mental disciplines you pretend to advocate.

  96. 96
    ll11

    I would often wave my arms and/or fingers around in front of my face with, I’m sure, a crazy look on my face after anatomy and physiology classes, because it’s freaking amazing, if you think about it. No woo has to be involved, but the beautiful complexity of neurons (think about it: axons several feet long!) conveying impulses all that distance, the neurotransmitters that allow it all to work, the vast organization of the brain itself that coordinates it all, and the muscles in my arm and hand that were just like the muscles in the arms and hands of the cadavers I studed… I probably looked like I was on an acid trip. It’s amazing. And it’s all real!

    On the days where I didn’t leave class admiring my anatomy (and that of everyone around me), I was looking around in astonishment that we didn’t all just collapse in heaps of twitching nerve fibers with various immune cells running amok.

  97. 97
    Enkidum

    Kamaka – I don’t know about snow, but this article in Nature is reasonably impressive: http://lib.semi.ac.cn:8080/tsh/dzzy/wsqk/Nature/295-234.pdf.

    Why is it controversial that learning to influence certain bodily functions might be difficult and require training? Is that somehow caving in to the woo-meisters? Do you think you’d be able to do the same things as described in the article?

  98. 98
    hymanrosen

    I think that some people are so eager to counter apparent claims of woo that they forget that extraordinary complexity can arise from simple bases and announce that “it’s all physiological” as if that means something deep. Everything runs on the hardware of physicality, but most things can’t be usefully described at that low level – you just wind up saying “it’s made of molecules, son”. As it wouldn’t make any sense for someone to tell me “you’re not really writing a comment, it’s just a bunch of atoms and electrons moving around” it also doesn’t make any sense for someone to say “you don’t really have a spirit, it’s just a bunch of atoms and electrons moving around”.

  99. 99
    Nick Gotts

    Steinhart’s justification for all the bilge about Wicca is a belief that as Christianity declines in the US:
    1) There will be a growing demand for an atheistic religion.
    2) Wicca and more generally neo-paganism will grow alongside atheism, at comparable rates.

    There is very little reason to believe either of these. Neither has occurred in those parts of Europe where de-Christianisation has gone furthest. It is therefore quite transparently a cover for Steinhart to proselytise for both Wicca and his wacky metaphysics.

    BTW Daniel, if Eric’s really is the sort of stuff that gets published in academic journals of metaphysics, then that’s very sad, but we know sub-disciplines can lose themselves in pointless nonsense for decades at a time – look at post-modernism and evolutionary psychology (I’m not saying everything that fits under those heading is nonsense, any more than for metaphysics).

  100. 100
  101. 101
    dani82

    Dear Professor Myers,
    I think you already know, it’s typical of some philosophers to indulge in the metaphysics and spirituality, because they don’t use the scientific method and the logic to analyze the matters of the real world but they prefer to talk about nothing and to waste time in boring stuff.

    Sad, sad, sad. There is still a long way to go…..

  102. 102
    Louis

    I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I am on the fence on this one, but I think there is something interesting here.

    Obviously and uncontroversially the “spiritual” angles and various attempts at supporting woo with “altered brain states” and “meditations” etc are confounding bafflegab that, as PZ and others rightly note, give cover to charlatans. What I am at least relatively convinced of is that there are “woo-ish” and “spiritual” claims that are attempts at explaining something we don’t have a good grasp on yet.

    The examples and ideas in Douglas Adams’ “Is There An Artificial God” are what I am getting at. I.e. obviously irrational systems built on demonstrably false premises that still yield genuine, measurable, practical results and thus demand rational, scientific investigation.

    I’m not convinced, for example, that mindfulness meditation and the placebo effect are utterly useless. As far as my limited awareness of these things goes, they are poorly understood but offer some practical benefits. This by no means endorses the drivel that the deepity lovers and Chopra chums spout. The only value the deepity drivel and spiritual bafflegab might, and I stress might, have is that they offer a place-holder for a more rational and evidence based understanding of some specific phenomena. Even that possible value is pretty thin soup and a clear cry for better understanding and epistemic humility from proponents. Especially as these place-holders are so easily misused.

    I think the question of whether there is interim practical value in a system of ideas that is itself false or irrational is a good question. I also think it’s one in which the context matters greatly. And no, I don’t think that is an endorsement of the bafflegab (or even belief in belief etc), like I said, context and the specifics matter. So Deepak’s quantum drivel simply confounds more than it helps, and is intended, pretty fucking clearly, to fleece as many rubes as possible. Bin it with extreme prejudice!

    I guess at the basic level, I care about what works and why. I see things like, for example, mindfulness meditation as a natural phenomenon to be understood and explored. If it turns out to be Scotch Mist, then fine and dandy. If it turns out the benefits are derived from simple self calming and placebo-like phenomena, then I feel we’ve lost nothing. The corollary to that though is that there might be some genuine, novel phenomenon lurking under the woo and nonsense, and once that is stripped back and the specific thing is investigated we advance human knowledge a step further. That obviously excites me!

    I freely confess my relative ignorance on these topics is a possible cause of my interest and unwillingness to cynically dismiss them, but I remain pretty thoroughly sceptical of their benefits and reality.

    Louis

  103. 103
    sawells

    “I’m not convinced, for example, that mindfulness meditation and the placebo effect are utterly useless.”

    Nobody said they were. Against whom are you arguing?

  104. 104
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    A few words cause me to reflexively grab both my mind and my wallet, as nothing but bullshit will follow. Two of them are “metaphysical” and “spiritual”. The latter should die a natural death.

  105. 105
    sailor1031

    Yesterday Summer-the-little-stripey-cat jumped up on the dresser and knocked a lamp over. That was her brain doing that! Wow! Explain that!

  106. 106
    sailor1031

    And today my left arm is undergoing a periodic arthritis flare-up and won’t bend very well at all. I guess my brain not work too good today, hunh?

  107. 107
    Louis

    Sawells @ 103,

    Arguing is a bit strong! Participating in the conversation more like!

    I guess in all of this I am more curious than cynical, and more concerned about the potential of throwing the baby out with the bathwater than I am maintaining some appearance of ideological purity.

    I’m as annoyed and turned off by things like “metaphysical” and “spiritual” as the next rationalist, atheist scientist. In fact, probably more so, intolerant prick that I am! But if we use the example of various religions across the world we find that in amongst the demonstrably false crapola the occasional nugget of gold. A useful moral rule here, a useful insight there.

    None of this validates those religions of course, or any specific claim therein. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day and it would be staggering if literally every single utterance of every single religion or spiritual system were demonstrably false or unproductive (if that were the case, THAT would be a phenomenon worth investigating). All it indicates is that sometimes bad systems of ideas contain, perhaps merely by accident, something substantial, something of use. Especially in situations where no really good model exists. This is almost trivially true. Hence why I have a great deal of sympathy for the “explore these things first” attitude displayed by Daniel above.

    I used the mindfulness/placebo effect examples for two reasons, I know more about them than I do about wicca etc, and they are often the source of ferocious woo (for example the entire set of claims made by homeopathy rests on the use of “sympathetic magic” coupled to a crass and shallow misunderstanding of the placebo effect. Big woo from little falsehoods). These phenomena are closer to my own field of knowledge than the sociology of religion (for example). They are also often coupled with just the kind of spiritual deepity that others have been complaining about (rightly) here. Hence why relevant.

    Louis

  108. 108
    Louis

    Addendum: I suppose I am also being sceptical/critical of my tendency to knee-jerk reaction at the merest whiff of woo. Not that my knee-jerk is necessarily wrong or that I shouldn’t indulge it (it usually isn’t in these cases and boy do I!), just that as we move out from the original example of wicca etc to the other examples of woo infested zones given in the thread (not just by me), that knee-jerk serves me less well.

    Louis

  109. 109
    Kamaka

    Enkidum @ 97

    Why is it controversial that learning to influence certain bodily functions might be difficult and require training?

    Where did I say such a thing? In the article you cite, note that rectal temperature doesn’t change. The rest is just parlour tricks.

    My claim is that such “astounding” feats are done by the rather simple techniques of auto-hypnosis. The purveyors of such techniques claim they are difficult and require great training, but auto-hypnosis is trivial, really.

    OK. People don’t know much about hypnosis, but it is not “mysterious” or any kind of difficult, just poorly understood.

  110. 110
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Then he is interested in separating what true ideas Wiccans are trying to convey and he is interested in how some of their rituals and practices are interesting attempts to express and inculcate those truths.

    What are these true ideas, specifically? Could you list four or five? You’re already two levels removed here: their activities are “attempts to express” ideas they’re “trying to convey,” so it’s not looking good for any specific and non-trivial truths offered.

    And certain practices while literally false serve functional mechanisms that are rationally desirable.

    This is confused. Practices are neither true nor false. It’s obvious that humans have psychological needs (though people might disagree about what these are), and that these minimally include human community and probably ritual, neither of which is remotely exclusive to religion. This tells us nothing about the desirability of any specific basis for community or ritual.

    If an important element of a practice is the expression and inculcation of false beliefs, then I have a problem with that specific practice. (That doesn’t mean I find useless or reject all of the elements of the practice – dancing to commune with the Goddess is silly, but dancing in general is great.)

    What do I mean about conveying metaphorical truths? Well, to be simple, people for centuries talked (and still talk) about traits “being transmitted in the blood”. Now we know about genes. Genes are literally true. But say some people literally believed the falsehood about blood transmitting traits. There could be some effectiveness in predictions and reasoning about things that way. No where within a galaxy of the precision of genome science, but a basic truth is understood.

    Wow, this is a dangerous game. People talking about blood-transmission of traits scientifically weren’t being metaphorical. They were being literal, but lacked knowledge of how traits are transmitted. Ignorance about traits being located in the blood led to some terrible actions (read Blood Work by Holly Tucker). The people who did talk about inheritance religiously were also being literal (to them), and they believed in the blood transmission of “spirit,” sin, guilt, and evil. There’s no truth involved here, and when you suggest that there is you open the door for the inclusion of stupidities surrounding racism, inherited “criminality,” eugenics, and so on. (This is what’s happened in reality, sadly.)

    If what you mean by metaphorical truth is false ideas that can be productive of research, no one doubts they exist, but you have to put the examples in the past because of course it’s morally wrong to maintain established false beliefs despite the evidence. If what you mean by metaphorical truth is false beliefs that directly or indirectly provide psychological comfort, that does not make them any more morally acceptable. In no case should the word truth be used to describe beliefs that are false.

  111. 111
    interrobang

    What do I mean about conveying metaphorical truths? … There could be some effectiveness in predictions and reasoning about things that way. No where within a galaxy of the precision of genome science, but a basic truth is understood.”

    This is ridiculous and betrays a real lack of comprehension of metaphorics. Saying that “traits were carried in the blood” and using “blood” as a metonymy for something that isn’t understood (or as a synecdoche for a non-understood intangible quality of the blood) is not analogical speech, as there is no comparison or likeness involved. Or, as we’d say in the metaphorics biz, there is no source or target domain.

    Saying that “blood” = “heritability” is not really true (and probably has no more predictive power than long human observations that children tend to look like their parents and so on) doesn’t somehow give it the status of “truth,” let alone “metaphoric truth.”

    That said, I will grant you that there are things that can be described as “metaphoric truths”; they’re generally universal metaphors used for basic concepts, which occur in every known human culture, but these don’t tell us much about external or extrinsic reality, save that they tell us that human beings tend to think of/express certain basic concepts in predictable ways. (Case in point, time as journey, time as place, etc.) However, these “metaphoric truths” already have a name: conceptual metaphors, and they’re a well-known and well-studied phenomenon in cognitive linguistics and applied metaphorics.

    Which is why I really don’t have much use for philosophy — other disciplines have better and more evidential ways of getting to the point. Rather than just sort of coming up with vague abstract capital-P principles and trying to argue things from formal logic, go out and do some real-world research and see what’s actually happening here in the Big Blue Room.

  112. 112
    interrobang

    Bah, tagfail. First para is the quote, second para is mine, sorry.

  113. 113
    Crow

    I’m all for ditching the word “Spiritual”. I”m not convinced at all that it can be used without invoking woo. And frankly, there are better words out there to describe the types of experience that Daniel and Eric would label spiritual. Trancelike, hypnotic, or meditative all convey what these guys have described much more accurately and without the implication of a soul.

    Metaphysics, on the other hand, is definitely a useful field. It just so happens that because it’s a field that is more about conceptual analysis than empirical analysis it is very easy to claim your theory is metaphysical, when in fact it’s just abstract bullshit.

    For starters, there isn’t much scientific evidence we’re going to encounter that will make us redefine our basic conception of existence. Certainly not using your brain to move your arm. Thus metaphysics isn’t exactly a fast-paced branch of philosophy.

    Maybe we should teach metametaphysics before we start teaching metaphysics.

  114. 114
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    “Look at that,” he said, “My mind is doing that.”

    Do bacteria twirling their flagella also have minds?

    Let us know when he moves on to moving other people’s arms with his mind.

  115. 115
    Enkidum

    Kamada: “Where did I say such a thing [that the fire technique might be difficult and require great training]?

    Uh… in the same comment , you say that (a) it doesn’t require great training, and (b) it’s trivial.

    I ask again, can you raise the temperature of your fingers by 8 degrees? Maybe that’s trivial, I dunno, never having researched any of this. Is it?

  116. 116
    john m.kowalski

    Hopefully you realize that not all Buddhists are woo-meisters.

  117. 117
    rorschach

    lm,

    The Ontological Argument Against God

    A terrible thread all around, full of meaningless garblewarble dressed up as logical thinking.

  118. 118
    LewisX

    FFS Steinhart and “Rational Rebirth”:

    The Pew Religious Landscape Survey states that 10% of atheists pray at least weekly; those atheists are free to pray to the Great Wheel. The Great Wheel is not a god or goddess; it is not a theistic deity at all; nor is it even a deity of any kind. It is merely an abstract cyclical pattern, an iterative algorithm. The content of an atheistic prayer to the Great Wheel might simply express the desire that it will carry your pattern forward, so that you will be reborn.

    This isn’t just about the pros and cons of usage of words like “spiritualism”. I see a pattern developing here and I cannot believe this shit is consistent with atheism, rationality or skepticism.

    And he had to bring Godel into it, didn’t he? Like I haven’t seen an obscurantist pull that sort of crap before.

  119. 119
    Anri

    Practicing Buddhists meditators experience long-term measurable changes in brain function and chemistry. It’s been well-documented in the real peer-reviewed neurological literature. So do Sufi dervishes. So do crazy atheistic British wizards. The different training methods they use produce different physical, cognitive and emotional changes.

    So do people who abuse alcohol.

    What’s your point?

    Aging and learning produce long-term, measurable changes in brain function and chemistry. Just like lifting weights produces long-term, measurable changes in muscle function and chemsitry, and eating too much fatty food produces long-term measurable changes in arterial function and chemistry.

    By the way, getting hit by a bus tends to produce permanent, radical, obvious changes in many systems of the human body, brain included.

    The body responds to stimuli. Film at 11.

  120. 120
    Ing

    The Great Wheel is not a god or goddess; it is not a theistic deity at all; nor is it even a deity of any kind. It is merely an abstract cyclical pattern, an iterative algorithm.

    So praying to it is either

    a) In earnest and the rough equivalent of talking to your turds

    b) Like talking to a pet.

  121. 121
    upagainsttheropes

    He flexed his arm at me.

    “Look at that,” he said, “My mind is doing that.”

    You should of had him cross his legs and struck his patellar tendon and asked if his mind did that too.

    Maybe it’s just a knee jerk reaction on my part.

  122. 122
    Anri

    He flexed his arm at me.

    “Look at that,” he said, “My mind is doing that.”

    My (no doubt flawed) understanding is:

    No, actually, your brain is doing that, and then creating post-hoc rationalizations for why, which we refer to as the ‘mind’.

  123. 123
    Ing

    You should of had him cross his legs and struck his patellar tendon and asked if his mind did that too.

    Maybe it’s just a knee jerk reaction on my part.

    Win

  124. 124
    Ing

    Wicca and more generally neo-paganism will grow alongside atheism, at comparable rates.

    From some of the Atheist origin stories, it seems that the trip to atheism is almost a bit of a reverse of memetic ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.

    a) Monotheism of some regard
    b) Polytheism or a more egalitarian religion
    c) Pantheism or Animism
    d) Casual disbelief
    e) Atheism

  125. 125
    viggen111

    but not all; ask anyone in the throes of depression — you can’t just will yourself out of everything

    I agree with that to an extent. But, I would add the provision that brains do change over time. Something you didn’t have control over for years, you may eventually learn control for– it happened to me. I think also that some people (certainly not every case) use depression as an excuse to not exercise or attempt to learn self control. I think there are a lot of unhappy people who want to believe there is more wrong with them than there actually is and exacerbate their depression in trying to find something clinically wrong with themselves when they really could just make a choice about learning to turn it off. “Unhappy” may be a function of environment rather than mental inclination. Depression is thought and new manners of thinking can be learned: it is true that something wrong with the brain can cause unhappy thought, but it is also true that new learning can result in new behaviors in thought, even manners of avoiding depression. Learning is physical alteration of the brain and physical changes in how your brain operates!

    I tend to dislike people implying that depression is an uncontrollable, irresistible, binary on-off thing when it’s much more complex than that. Depression is very hard to fight, but you can’t really fight it if you surrender to the attitude that you are helpless before it, either. A drug from the outside might make it easier, but it might also be an crutch that you just don’t need.

    By the same token, I’m not implying any “spiritualism”… I’m just saying that the brain is not a static organ: it’s very dynamic and it’s intended by its very function to alter its own behavior over time. And that includes with respect to something like “depression” which might be feedback or noise induced. Kind of meta when you realize that “feedback” and “noise” are “thought,” which is extremely plastic and fickle.

  126. 126
    Ing

    Depression is very hard to fight, but you can’t really fight it if you surrender to the attitude that you are helpless before it, either. A drug from the outside might make it easier, but it might also be an crutch that you just don’t need.

    You fight a condition that leads to feeling helpless by not feeling helpless? Seriously you just said “Don’t get depressed”

    Fuck you.

    A drug from the outside might make it easier, but it might also be an crutch that you just don’t need.

    Yeah and you might not get infected so sterilizing that wound is just a crutch right?

  127. 127
    Ing

    It isn’t just “feeling sad” jackass. It involves full body pain, fatigue, and dullness.

  128. 128
    Ing

    The last thing depressed people need are assholes making them feel weak for being depressed.

    Let me tell you nothing drives someone deeper into depression than the guilt of hearing “so many others have it worse than you, why can’t you snap out of it?”

  129. 129
    rorschach

    And, like I said, I will be the predominant voice on the blog again starting today.

    I see

  130. 130
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    FFS Steinhart and “Rational Rebirth”:…

    That post! I’m speechless. Except to say

    But it is not an exercise in advocating woo or confusing metaphysical categories for science or in any other way trying to undermine science or prop up authoritarianism and superstition. – Fincke

    Yes. Yes, it is.

  131. 131
    anteprepro

    I think also that some people (certainly not every case) use depression as an excuse to not exercise or attempt to learn self control.

    Self-control in what respect? Those having manic episodes are a portrait of lacking self-control. Those having depressive episodes are a portrait of excessive self-control, to the point of virtual paralysis.

    I think there are a lot of unhappy people who want to believe there is more wrong with them than there actually is and exacerbate their depression in trying to find something clinically wrong with themselves when they really could just make a choice about learning to turn it off.

    Learning to turn off the unhappy? You do realize that part of the thing that makes depression something “clinically wrong” is the lack of motivation and excessive self-criticism, right? How can they choose to learn to turn off their unhappiness when their unhappiness is so extreme that they have trouble motivating themselves to get up in the morning? When their unhappiness is so extreme that suicide is actually considered as a viable solution to their perceived problems? Depression is a catch-22 illness, because those who have it the worst are least able to seek or carry out treatment. They just can’t make themselves care enough about themselves to bother.

    “Unhappy” may be a function of environment rather than mental inclination.

    It doesn’t need to be either-or. Environment exacerbates existing mental inclinations and can sculpt new ones. Our existing mental inclinations influence the environments we choose (the depressed person would be least inclined to bother to change their environment, for example).

    Depression is thought and new manners of thinking can be learned:

    Which is why therapy exists for it. If you think that it is likely that a person can snap out of depression without aid of therapy at all, please present your technique to your nearest psychological research team.

    A drug from the outside might make it easier, but it might also be an crutch that you just don’t need.

    What is wrong for an ill person to have a crutch? What is wrong with making things easier?

  132. 132
    kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith

    I think there are a lot of unhappy people who want to believe there is more wrong with them than there actually is and exacerbate their depression in trying to find something clinically wrong with themselves when they really could just make a choice about learning to turn it off.

    I’m guessing you never, ever had depression. Depression isn’t just being ‘unhappy’, but actually being incapable to feel happiness of any kind, no matter what happens around you.

    Depression is very hard to fight, but you can’t really fight it if you surrender to the attitude that you are helpless before it, either.

    Those who think depression is an ‘attitude’ typically never had any mental illness issue, or personnally know people with actual mental illness.

    A drug from the outside might make it easier, but it might also be an crutch that you just don’t need.

    Fuck this. Better to walk with a crutch and avoid damage to a broken or sprained limb. Don’t you think it just might make healing easier not to keep on damaging an injured limb for the rather stupid reason of enabling yourself to brag about it ?

    For the record : I personnaly suffered from depression induced by hormonal imbalance and I can confirm that:

    1- It had absolutely nothing to do with my freaking ‘attitude’, despite what the people surrounding me stupidly and wrongly kept on telling me, encouraging further despair and suicidal thoughts that I fortunately and ironically had no motivation to implement due to depression

    2- It resolved itself completely without any need for therapy of any kind only after my hormone levels were on an even keel

    Hint : spending hours crying in your car for no apparent/immediate reason, for months, finding no pleasure in any of the activities you used to find pleasureable and constantly thinking about your own death, with or without actual suicide plans, just might indicate that something is clinically wrong with you. It was for me. Get help. Depression can be fatal.

  133. 133
    kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith

    Let me tell you nothing drives someone deeper into depression than the guilt of hearing “so many others have it worse than you, why can’t you snap out of it?”

    I hear you.

    Imagine being told exactly that by your best friend who happens to have cancer.

    I really spent that night awake thinking about the manner and time of my death.

  134. 134
    strange gods before me ॐ

    A terrible thread all around, full of meaningless garblewarble dressed up as logical thinking.

    :)

    It’s logical, that’s beyond doubt. Whether it’s sound logic, I don’t know. I can’t always tell when something is meaningless, but I can tell sometimes when it’s not meaningless, and I know this one’s not meaningless because I can follow along with the meaning throughout.

    I believe there are, as several commenters note, good reasons for rejecting ontological arguments of this type. (Mao gave a sufficient reason that they’re all garblewarble.) But if we were to simply grant, for the sake of argument, all those steps 1–7, then the last is a good argument that “the MPB is the maximally wide and high iterative hierarchy of pure sets.”

  135. 135
    Anja Wiggin

    I’ve stopped reading Camels with Hammers because of that Eric Steinhart fellow. His posts are ridiculous.

  136. 136
    rorschach

    But if we were to simply grant, for the sake of argument, all those steps 1–7,

    Thankfully, some of the commenters there were bright enough to realize that all these fancy shiny terms in these steps 1-7 were poorly defined verbities of the likes of “maximally perfect”.

  137. 137
    kermit.

    Kamaka: “I repeat, auto-hypnosis is simple. Guru/preacher sales tactics make the simple seem Other-Worldly.”

    I guess I’ve wasted my time studying martial arts for 35 years. I could have just auto-hypnotized myself. It’s fun! It’s easy! And it’s about as clearly defined as “chakra”, and just as useful.

    One master of Chen TaiJi says “chi (ki in Japanese) is just good body mechanics”. But he’s not saying that it’s easy or simple; he’s saying that it’s not magic. Good body mechanics – especially when fighting for your life – is not simple and easy in practice, but anybody can learn it to a considerable degree with sufficient practice and effort. These things can be misunderstood even by folks who can do them. After a demonstration, beginning students can be easily misled to the woo side, but clear and rational explanations will help them stay grounded. But various exercises, including visualization, are still necessary.

    Ask any aikido students you may know for a demonstration of “unbendable arm”. It involves nothing that anybody watching and experiencing would call “auto-hypnosis”, but the traditional explanation and directions sounds like early training at a Jedi school. It is really just a visualization that allows the motor control necessary to stay relaxed and focused, eventually even under great stress.

    Much of what the human brain does is subconscious. When you throw crumpled paper into the trash can you do not do the math necessary to calculate the vectors, nor do you determine consciously the muscles necessary for the act – which ones, in what order, and to what degree of contraction. Imagery of various sorts are what allows our conscious volition to carry out various actions, including some which are normally autonomic.

    Yes, these are all physiological. But “auto-hypnosis” explains nothing (might as well say “spiritual”), and many of these skills involves much hard work.

  138. 138
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Thankfully, some of the commenters there were bright enough to realize that all these fancy shiny terms in these steps 1-7 were poorly defined verbities of the likes of “maximally perfect”.

    Yes, rorschach, but that’s the standard for ontological arguments. I wonder now if you think you’re informing me of something, or whether you’re just complaining and I happen to be listening.

  139. 139
    coralline

    hymanrosen, #98:

    As it wouldn’t make any sense for someone to tell me “you’re not really writing a comment, it’s just a bunch of atoms and electrons moving around” it also doesn’t make any sense for someone to say “you don’t really have a spirit, it’s just a bunch of atoms and electrons moving around”.

    Really. Those are remotely analogous statements?

  140. 140
    aussieseculardad

    I’ve always felt that ‘spiritual’ is one of those words that is very slippery. In the hands of a religious person, it is referring to the actual spirit – the non-corporeal essence of self that leaves the body after death.

    But in the hands of an atheist, it simply refers to certain ideas and practices (such as meditation) that, although they’re often associated with religion, actually have a real benefit. Or it could simply be a synonym for ‘psychological’. In that context, ‘spiritual exercises’ could simply refer to any exercises that aim to prepare oneself mentally for something.

    Then again, I haven’t read this specific blogger’s stuff. So he could actually be totally insane.

  141. 141
    Kel

    “I’m not convinced, for example, that mindfulness meditation and the placebo effect are utterly useless.”
    I think this sentence highlights an important point. Why the hell would these be covered under any form of spiritualism? Are we to say that every idea that comes under the lens of spiritualism is a validation of that spiritualism or must be discarded? Seems a silly notion, much like thinking that morality is somehow metaphysically bound to religious texts. So often the arguments against atheists involve the threat of moral nihilism – as if religion somehow owns the reasons to be good – yet most of us seem to get on fine without such religious doctrines. To some, that means we are hypocrites who are refusing to acknowledge God in our Goodness, but to me it just means that putting God into morality is wishful thinking on their part.

    To perpetuate this identity between a phenomenon and some metaphysical doctrine is inevitably going to be misleading. The placebo effect, the power of mind, and practices such as meditation are up for study, but even if they were true they would not validate the spiritualism that comes with it. Prayer might have a positive mental effect, but that doesn’t validate Christianity. There’s not something to Buddhism because meditation works, any more than the power of placebos shows there really is something called mind that’s distinct from the brain.

    The omphalos hypothesis may equally well account for the aged appearance of the earth as the earth being actually old, but that doesn’t mean we should sit back and think there might be something to creationism. It may be able to account for all the data but that doesn’t mean it’s an idea worth anything. That the placebo effect works or that there’s something to meditation don’t mean anything about the metaphysical doctrines that lay claim to them.

  142. 142
    David Marjanović

    Then Eric is doing a very good job of convincing me that metaphysics is a total waste of time.

    Seconded!

    People need to have ceremonies to mark birth, marriage, and death.

    Untrue.

    And people need holidays.

    People need vacations.

    And don’t act as if secular events couldn’t be celebrated. FFS, there are dozens of official secular holidays in the US!

    Natural creative power (natura naturans) is the ultimate immanent creative power of being.

    There is no such thing.

    There

    is

    no

    such

    thing.

    atheistic philosophers like Spinoza

    Spinoza wasn’t an atheist, he was a pantheist. Looks very similar, but isn’t the same thing.

    Any version of the original object that is produced by the original object also contains the nature of the original object

    Meaningless bafflegab.

    Hence the Principle of Plenitude (PP) entails that for every possible version of any object, if there is any way that version is greater than the original object, then that greater version exists.

    Too bad, then, that the Principle of Plenitude is wrong. Somebody thought it up because it sounded beautiful to him, and then confused beauty and truth – that’s all there ever was to it.

    Exhibit 1: empty ecological niches. For instance, raccoons and trees of heaven have been introduced into Europe and have spread rapidly without competing with anything.

    An example is Darwinian evolution on earth, in which each organism strives

    BZZZT! Wrong.

    There is no striving in evolution. Stuff happens and has consequences. That’s all. That’s all there is to it. To wit:

    to reproduce its kind, or to maximize its own number of offspring

    Those that don’t do that die out and aren’t represented in the population anymore (one or a few generations later) – regardless of whether that’s what they wanted, regardless of whether they have a will. Stuff happens and has consequences.

    and in which those many strivings cooperate or compete, thus ensuring the survival of the fittest.

    That’s not true even if the environment literally is chopped liver.

    conflicts among the strivings (the rational wills) of organisms drive evolution from the unicellular level up to the appearance of rational animals like human beings

    Jesus Haploid Christ. That would mean evolution is magic, sorcery, a miracle.

    A will is something brains do.

    Objective reason, which is impersonal and unconscious

    If Steinhart means this to be read as his own opinion, he believes reason is a force of nature just like electromagnetics.

    Reason is something brains do. It’s not a parameter of the Standard Model of physics.

    Steinhart’s justification for all the bilge about Wicca is a belief that as Christianity declines in the US:
    1) There will be a growing demand for an atheistic religion.
    2) Wicca and more generally neo-paganism will grow alongside atheism, at comparable rates.

    There is very little reason to believe either of these. Neither has occurred in those parts of Europe where de-Christianisation has gone furthest.

    Indeed, I’ve never heard of Wicca occurring outside the US at all. I suppose it probably does in the UK, but that’s it.

    Maybe we should teach metametaphysics before we start teaching metaphysics.

    I agree so strongly that I just started the discussion on that article. :-)

  143. 143
    Weedless Monkey

    I tend to dislike people implying that depression is an uncontrollable, irresistible, binary on-off thing when it’s much more complex than that. Depression is very hard to fight, but you can’t really fight it if you surrender to the attitude that you are helpless before it, either. A drug from the outside might make it easier, but it might also be an crutch that you just don’t need.

    O.o
    Fuck you, fuck you very much, you condescending ass.

  144. 144
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Spiritual exercise:

    1) pour shot
    2) drink shot
    3) do push-ups

    :D

  145. 145
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Hence the Principle of Plenitude (PP) entails that for every possible version of any object, if there is any way that version is greater than the original object, then that greater version exists.

    In which case, I am now thinking of the Vexorg – a vicious, vaguely reptilian creature with the thickest scales, sharpest claws and fangs, fastest flight, and greatest hunger for the flesh of slow, inattentive motorists that can be conceived.

    I’ll let you know if my commute improves tomorrow.

  146. 146
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Anyone who wants an antidote to that nasty stupidity about depression should go read this: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html

    Or re-read it, for gems like “trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back.”

  147. 147
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Also, there is a point, a small one, in the observation that learned helplessness can exacerbate (or mimic) biochemical depression, and impede or prevent any serious efforts at obtaining or encouraging treatment. I’ve been observing this uncomfortably around me for some time.

  148. 148
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Azkyroth, if we were discussing support and therapy for depression, that could be a useful topic to talk about. But I don’t believe it was actually meant with any compassion. Maybe I’m wrong and viggenwhatsit is just a bad writer, but it seemed very smug and dismissive to me.

  149. 149
    matthewsegall

    I think PZ succeeds in defeating only his own confused idea of “spirit.” Spirit is a concept necessary for any serious philosophical reflection upon the nature of self-reflexive consciousness. Spiritual exercises, of the type discussed here, are meant to strengthen the will, that which initiates thinking and, with practice, can guide inner experience more generally. The will is not something a scientific materialist can say much about, since she attempts to define the entire universe according to a series of deterministic/mechanistic effects. The will or spirit is a free cause, a self-determining agency. To the extent that we function normally in society as sane adults, we each assume we are self-determining agents, even those of us who are reductionistic materialists. The latter engage in performative contradiction, as I argue in the post linked here:

    http://footnotes2plato.com/2012/01/07/disambiguating-spirit-and-matter-reflections-on-scientific-materialism/

  150. 150
    Kel

    Spirit is a concept necessary for any serious philosophical reflection upon the nature of self-reflexive consciousness.

    Bullshit.

    The will is not something a scientific materialist can say much about, since she attempts to define the entire universe according to a series of deterministic/mechanistic effects.

    Again, bullshit. Whatever capacities humans have, they ultimately have to be explicable in any proposed ontology. If materialism is adequate to explain what we are, then it by necessity has to be able to explain consciousness and agency. By contrast, if materialism is doomed to fail, then the burden is on those claiming there’s something other than material to show where it interfaces with the material. Quite simply, you don’t have access to what is “behind the veil” of conscious experience, so claiming that materialism isn’t up for the job can only be satisfactorily done by showing the material body is an incomplete system.

    In other words, if we’re more than material, why don’t we see anywhere the nonmaterial interfaces with our material bodies?

  151. 151
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    matthewsegall says:

    Heh.

  152. 152
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I think PZ succeeds in defeating only his own confused idea of “spirit.” Spirit is a concept necessary for any serious philosophical reflection upon the nature of self-reflexive consciousness.

    Null definition from a null sophist philosopher, full of illogic and idiocy, meaning nothing. Typical contribution form MS. Utter and total bullshit.

  153. 153
    Kel

    Matthew, for years you’ve been coming on here and adamantly arguing the pitfalls of materialism. Yet what do you think you’ve demonstrated beyond making your caricature of the materialist position and espousing “feel-good” sophistry? Do you think that materialists seriously deny consciousness? Do you think materialists deny such thing as agency? Or do you think that materialists ought to deny them in the same way that William Lane Craig thinks we ought to deny any sense of morality or meaning in a Godless universe?

    Because, Matthew, for years you’ve been touting your attacks on materialism, but I don’t think you’ve done anything beyond make aggrandising statements about the apparent absurdity of materialists and making the occasional lucid appeal to spiritual language. Please correct me if I’m wrong here, because I’m trying hard to see what substance you have to your lucid rhetoric, but for the most part it just seems like you taking yet another opportunity to talk condescendingly to the “unenlightened”.

  154. 154
    matthewsegall

    Kel, you are leaving out the possibility that the concept of matter employed by materialists is inadequate. Perhaps the mechanistic conception of matter as devoid of feeling is mistaken, and the true nature of materiality is more like a proto-intelligent fluid awaiting the slightest spontaneous provocation before self-organizing into all the marvelous living forms we find around us, and indeed into the conscious life that we ourselves represent. Its not about there being something “more” than the material. The question for me is what must matter be such that life and consciousness are possibilities.

    I disagree with you about our access to what is “behind the veil” of conscious experience. We know of nothing more intimately than our own consciousness. Certainly, it remains mysterious despite our acquaintance with it, but am I wrong to suggest that experience is more basic a concept than matter? Is it not true that we know of matter only through experience, or at least that there never was such a thing as matter without experience?

  155. 155
    matthewsegall

    Kel, I’m bored and looking for a good argument. Why else would I show up here?

  156. 156
    matthewsegall

    I suppose what I am saying can come of condescendingly, but it is difficult to avoid such a tone when responding to one of PZ’s posts about how only an idiot could question materialism.

  157. 157
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Kel, I’m bored and looking for a good argument. Why else would I show up here?

    No, your bored and are looking for us to discuss your wacky-backy bullshit. Take it on the road bad sophist philosopher.

  158. 158
    Kel

    Kel, you are leaving out the possibility that the concept of matter employed by materialists is inadequate.

    Perhaps, though it would be nice to see this substantiated.

    Perhaps the mechanistic conception of matter as devoid of feeling is mistaken, and the true nature of materiality is more like a proto-intelligent fluid awaiting the slightest spontaneous provocation before self-organizing into all the marvelous living forms we find around us, and indeed into the conscious life that we ourselves represent. Its not about there being something “more” than the material.

    But is that in the material, or is it an emergent phenomenon? Not a single atom inside a rat has any care for what a rat does, but if a rat doesn’t get food or drink, then it’s goodbye to that rat. Nothing in the material that composes the rat has any interest in eating or drinking, but it would be making the fallacy of composition to claim that rats therefore do not have any interest in it.

    I disagree with you about our access to what is “behind the veil” of conscious experience. We know of nothing more intimately than our own consciousness.

    That’s a different point to what I’m making. Certainly we are familiar, for example, with the notion of lust, but we have no idea what lust or envy are composed of – nor can we ever know by pure introspection. We don’t have the capacity to see what causes our conscious experience.

    . Certainly, it remains mysterious despite our acquaintance with it, but am I wrong to suggest that experience is more basic a concept than matter?

    Yes. Our acquaintance of matter may be dependent on our experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s a more basic concept. Our probing into the world has shown that we are very much material beings, with consciousness being some sort of subset of neural activity. It may have been another way, but that’s what the best investigation has yielded.

  159. 159
    matthewsegall

    Kel,

    A sentient mammal like a rat is an emergent whole. The universe is full of such emergent wholes. The rat is also a small part in the much larger emergent whole of its ecosystem, which is itself part of Gaia, which itself is part of the solar system, etc., etc. It would seem that the best investigation has yielded an indefinite series of nested wholes shrinking to the infinitesimal and expanding to the cosmic, each with its own characteristic properties given the scale upon which it operates.

    Does it make sense to say that one emergent scale of wholes is causal (atoms, say), while all the others are derivative?

    We can say that every scale is material, but then it must be a material made of self-organizing wholes, not randomly assembled parts.

  160. 160
    matthewsegall

    Probing has indeed shown that we are material beings, but the definition of matter offered in contemporary physics is no less abstract and ethereal than that offered of mind by contemporary philosophy.

  161. 161
    Daniel Schealler

    @matthewsegall #149

    The will is not something a scientific materialist can say much about…

    What?

    The brain simulates various goals and drives in parallel to one another. Sometimes these goals and drives are contradictory. This may seem messy – but it’s actually a pretty decent system if you want an organism that has to trade off between multiple goals in response to a changing environment based on largely imperfect knowledge. Especially if you’re looking at evolution, so kludges are in and perfect, shiny, immaculate top-down designed systems are out.

    With training, the neural plasticity of the brain can be encourage to modify both how these drives are simulated, as well as how conflict between goals is resolved.

    Yep, I think that covers an incredibly basic and over-simplified materialistic account of will. If I really wanted to I could reduce everything in the last two paragraphs down through various stages of simpler components until we eventually wind up at neurons. I don’t want to – it wouldn’t be helpful or interesting. But I could, if I had to prove that this really was a materialistic account.

    And I’m just a scientific layperson. I expect a trained neurologist with an interest in the relevant areas of the brain, along with maybe a scientifically trained and competent psychologist, would have much more to say on the matter than me.

    Don’t be so fast to declare what you think is a subject about which materialists cannot talk. The historic track record of materialism coming to explaining that which was previously declared beyond its scope is against you.

    The concept of ‘spirit’ may have been useful – once. But it’s past it’s prime. The questions that the concept of ‘spirit’ are not the same today as they were two thousand years ago. We’ve come a long way, and the old vocabulary comes with some very unhelpful baggage.

    Retire the old terms, and bring in a new vocabulary to match accurately against the new understanding, rather than try to ram the millenia-old square peg into the century-old round hole.

  162. 162
    matthewsegall

    Daniel,

    We have come a long way, but I think modern reductionistic vocabulary can be just as unhelpful as ancient teleological vocabulary.

    The adaptationist narrative you provided as an explanation of will is somewhat helpful, but I’m not convinced yet. You’ve used some words that I can’t seem to reduce to the electrochemical activity of neurons. Words like “drive,” “goal,” “response,” “knowledge,” etc. How does inorganic matter come to express “drives”? How does it come to “respond”? How does it come to “know”? Surely, either matter is a blind mechanical substance that just does what it does without thinking or feeling or willing, or there is more to matter than meets the eye, something proto-organic or pre-living, something capable of the later evolutionary advancements like those found in complex animals like us.

  163. 163
    Kel

    Matthew, my response will have to wait until morning. For a tantalising preview, the difference between a rat and an ecosystem is that the notion of the ecosystem working towards anything would require more than merely pointing out the pattern. The selecting power that builds a rat doesn’t fit with ecosystems or planets or any other emergent phenomenon.

  164. 164
    'Tis Himself

    I see Matthew Segall is back with his “I don’t understand biochemistry, so it doesn’t explain consciousness” argument.

  165. 165
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    but the definition of matter offered in contemporary physics is no less abstract and ethereal than that offered of mind by contemporary philosophy smoking weed or taking LSD.

    Fixed that for you. All you have is mental masturbation, as nothing in your philosophy of the mind is based on reality. Which says we evolved, and that consciousness is just a manifestation of the meatware of the brain. Learn how to think based on reality, not just posit vague idiocy.

  166. 166
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Matthew Segall,
    OK, leaving aside the fact that there is no objectively observable phenomenon that requires “spirit” for it’s explanation, as a physicist, I take exception to this statement

    Matthew: “…the definition of matter offered in contemporary physics is no less abstract and ethereal than that offered of mind by contemporary philosophy.”

    The physical definition of matter is based on observed phenomena. It includes mechanisms by which matter interacts, which themselves have been verified empirically. It yields unambiguous and falsifiable predictions that have themselves been verified to unprecedented precision. It provides insight into phenomena that were unknown when the theory was developed.

    In contrast, the philosophical concept of mind barely qualifies as a concept at all. It explains nothing that the mechanistic concepts do not explain better. It makes no testable predictions. It provides no usable insight. It isn’t even sufficiently well defined that you can find two philosophers who agree on a definition. It is a bankrupt idea, and science is calling in the chips.

  167. 167
    anchor

    matthew: “We know of nothing more intimately than our own consciousness.”

    You mean where we’re standing on the small part of the tip of the iceberg we can actually see with our eyes closed?

  168. 168
    Kel

    Okay, I’m awake now.

    A sentient mammal like a rat is an emergent whole. The universe is full of such emergent wholes. The rat is also a small part in the much larger emergent whole of its ecosystem, which is itself part of Gaia, which itself is part of the solar system, etc., etc. It would seem that the best investigation has yielded an indefinite series of nested wholes shrinking to the infinitesimal and expanding to the cosmic, each with its own characteristic properties given the scale upon which it operates.

    Let’s say I buy that. Now, how does that invalidate materialism?

    With the rat, I gave specific reasons for how it is a rat can causally act, they are goal-directed systems. None of that is found in the matter itself, but the collection of matter. Nothing in the rat violates the notion of matter interacting with other matter. But the order of the rat and the ability for the rat to be a goal-seeking rat are found in the process of evolution.

    Does it make sense to say that one emergent scale of wholes is causal (atoms, say), while all the others are derivative?

    I don’t actually say that, but somehow I don’t feel the need to use words like “spirit” or “Gaia”, or rally against the notion of materialism.

    I’m having trouble telling with you, is your gripe with materialism or with a reductionist description of materialism? In either case, does it justify the use of “spiritual” language except in a fuzzy metaphorical sense?

    We can say that every scale is material, but then it must be a material made of self-organizing wholes, not randomly assembled parts.

    Who the hell it’s randomly assembled parts? At this point, your criticism is about one step above Dr Paul Nelson’s (literal) handwaving.

    And in terms of self-organising wholes, it’s not really a mystery as to how there can be organisation. In the case of planets and stars, we have gravity as a means to explain the organisation. In terms of life, we have the evolutionary algorithm. For a flock of birds, we have birds individually acting on local rules that gives the benefits of flying together. These wholes aren’t so much self-organising as they are emergent from process.

  169. 169
    matthewsegall

    Kel,

    My gripe is with a reductionistic description of material organization. I do not dispute the empirical findings of modern science, but the metaphysical causes that are put forward by reductionists to explain these findings. Unlike some who frequent this blog, I do not think “metaphysics” is a bad word, since all our thinking, scientific or not, to the extent that it strives toward the systematic, is metaphysical. I find it more appropriate and helpful to be explicit about my metaphysics, rather than to throw word-feces at any who challenge the framework I’d rather remained implicitly assumed. (No accusing you of this… thanks for being civil!). Let us not sweep the foundations of our thinking about the world under the carpet of positivism to avoid having to do the conceptual heavy lifting necessary to clean up the mess!

    That said, I adopt language like “spirit” because I think it is more helpful than merely using negative concepts like “non-material.” I reject the Enlightenment logic of people like Daniel (“we are so much more advanced!”) as a form of “chronological snobbery” (a term invented by C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield). This way of thinking is fallacious, nothing more than unreflective self-congratulations. “Spirit” isn’t a scientific object that can be measured or weighed, its mechanisms conceptually dissected so as to explain it away by reduction to a more fundamental process. Spirit is a philosophical concept for subjectivity, posited in order to account for how an intelligent being came to be capable of scientific measurement and materialistic explanation in the first place. One cannot go behind spirit for a more basic explanation, since one is always already engaging in exactly the kind of self-reflective activity called spiritual when attempting to seek out any such explanations. Philosophers like Schelling understood well the paradox resulting from the inquiring subject’s own pursuit of knowledge of natural objects. He sought a philosophy of nature/objects and of spirit/subjects that resolved the duality into a dynamic polarity. (mp3 of a lecture I gave on Schelling’s natural philosophy last spring: http://knowledgeecology.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/matt.mp3).

    If you agree that matter is composed of self-organizing wholes, then you are accepting a concept of matter that philosophers since at least Kant, if not Aristotle, recognized as living. Matter that organizes itself is, in some sense, alive. You deny self-organization as a mystery, pointing to evolutionary algorithms and the emergent complexity of simple rule following components. But this is just handwaving. The algorithmic approach of someone like Dennett completely ignores the fact that DNA is an inert molecule that would quickly degenerate without being embedded in the living dynamism of the cellular matrix. DNA does not make copies of itself. Organisms make copies of themselves. Emergence is an important concept, but unless we are explicit about its metaphysical implications, it amounts to nothing more than obscurantism (“matter is really complex, so anything is possible!”). To my mind, the metaphysical implications of emergentism are simple: organism (rather than mechanism) is basic to nature. Organisms, as defined by Kant, are beings who ends are internal to themselves, while mechanisms have ends external to themselves. Mechanism is the metaphor, understood by the ancients to refer to human contrivances and not to be mistaken for the causality of naturally emerging organisms (see this essay on Pierre Hadot’s history of the concept of nature: http://footnotes2plato.com/2011/06/06/the-veil-of-isis-or-the-meaning-of-withdrawal/). Only with the collapse of the Aristotelian world-picture following the rise of Galilean science was the metaphor of mechanism taken literally as what nature actually was.

  170. 170
    Daniel Schealler

    @matthewsegall #162

    You’ve used some words that I can’t seem to reduce to the electrochemical activity of neurons. Words like “drive,” “goal,” “response,” “knowledge,” etc. How does inorganic matter come to express “drives”? How does it come to “respond”? How does it come to “know”?

    Ever played Microsoft Hearts against the computer? ^_^

    Artificial intelligences that we craft ourselves have goals, drives, and respond to input, the store information about the world as they see it (knowledge).

    If you’re really interested how this can be done in the field of inorganic matter, I can recommend you start with ‘Artificial Intelligence – A Modern Approach’ by Stuart Russel and Peter Norvig. The second edition was the textbook during my AI paper back at Uni. That was a long time ago and I don’t work professionally with AI, so I expect I’ve largely forgotten the content of that course. Still, from memory it was a very interesting and accessible text, so I have no qualms recommending it.

    That said, I suspect that the use of the term inorganic was a typo on your part, as we have been discussing living organisms. If you want to know how this can take place in living organisms then I’m definitely the wrong person to ask – I don’t have any kind of background in biology to speak of. However, that said – evolution is smarter than us. If we can do it with a machine, I find no difficulty in imagining that that evolution can produce similar, perhaps better results. It also shouldn’t be surprising that this takes place using completely different methods to our own engineering. Evolution is a kludge – whereas human engineering has the potential to actually be teleological and designed from the top down.

    Surely, either matter is a blind mechanical substance…

    You say ‘blind’ here, which makes me suspect that you’re confusing the notion of drives and goals with that of qualia. If so, then we’re straying from the original point that I was trying to make. It’s a change of topic.

    I don’t really want to go down that pathway. I like to stick to one topic at a time. Suffice to say that I don’t have the expertise in philosophy, psychology or neurology to answer that question convincingly on my own merits. I’d like to recommend Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained given that when I read it, the parts of it that I understood I found to be very interesting and persuasive. However, I can’t claim to have understood it entirely. Went considerably over my head.

    That aside, I’m going to drop the issue of qualia and stick to goals and drives.

    I’ve edited out the word ‘blind’ from the text below, and will address it in the new form. Hope you’ll permit me this in light of my previous three paragraphs.

    Surely, either matter is a … mechanical substance that just does what it does without thinking or feeling or willing, or there is more to matter than meets the eye, something proto-organic or pre-living, something capable of the later evolutionary advancements like those found in complex animals like us.

    I think you’re missing the point I was trying to make.

    In particular, I think you missed a key term that perhaps I should have written in bold font.

    Simulates.

    I don’t propose that atoms, electrons, or protons have drives.

    I consider that evolution has shaped brains to simulate goals and drives – analogously to when a skilled artificial intelligence programmer (which I am not) creates an AI application that simulates goals, desires, future states, along with a virtualization of its environment that’s accessible to heuristic measures of value.

    The jump from artificial intelligence to evolved intelligence isn’t any harder than the jump from artificial selection to natural selection.

    Or to phrase it with the appropriate hedging: I cannot see any reason why the jump from artificial intelligence to evolved intelligence should be any harder than the jump from artificial selection to natural selection.

    I can’t understand why people have trouble with the idea… I’m tempted to declare that you’re falsely investing something sacred or magical into human decision making akin to élan vital, some kind of ghostly presence in the machine – and to parrot back at you the tired line about railway engines requiring some kind of élan locomotif as well as mechanistic steam in order to run…

    But that’s just speculation. I shouldn’t pretend that I can read your mind over the internet after nothing more than a couple of comment exchanges. That’s more than a little presumptuous, methinks. Just another of my many damning character flaws. ^_^

    The fix is simple, however. I don’t have to speculate. I can ask.

    Do you find the jump between artificial intelligence and evolved intelligence to be problematic?

    If so, why?

    In your response, consider my analogy: That artificial intelligence is to evolved intelligence as artificial selection is to natural selection.

    Does this analogy sit well with you?

    If not, what in particular do you find objectionable in that analogy?

    Looking forward to your response.

  171. 171
    Kel

    My gripe is with a reductionistic description of material organization.

    Then why can’t you just say that? It’s only a few extra words, and while it might be less fluent to do so, those grand pronouncements you make might change into something people can have a discussion over.

    Unlike some who frequent this blog, I do not think “metaphysics” is a bad word, since all our thinking, scientific or not, to the extent that it strives toward the systematic, is metaphysical.

    I think that part of the gripe people have isn’t that “metaphysics” is a bad word in and of itself, but the way people go on about metaphysics makes the concept sound undesirable. The same thing happens with philosophy; when for the 28th time you see someone trying to obscure criticism of creationism by abstracting any conversation to some metadefeater like the problem of induction or that our senses are fallible, it’s understandable that people would be hostile to philosophy.

    Tone down the rhetoric and the condescension in your pronouncements on here, and you might find people are more willing to talk about these issues. From the discussions I’ve had here, people here are more than happy to talk about issues of metaphysics. They get hostile when people abstract to metaphysics with no apparent regard to scientific discovery, and honestly I can’t blame them for that. It annoys me, anyway, so perhaps I’m projecting onto others here.

    That said, I adopt language like “spirit” because I think it is more helpful than merely using negative concepts like “non-material.”

    But what you might call spirit is very much material – brain activity. Webpages aren’t reducible to atoms, but who would think there’s anything other than physical activity going on?

    If you agree that matter is composed of self-organizing wholes, then you are accepting a concept of matter that philosophers since at least Kant, if not Aristotle, recognized as living.

    I don’t agree that matter is composed of self-organising wholes. Again, you use the word “self-organising” to which I am opposed. And there are definitely parts to the whole, to which the whole is largely dependant. What I was talking about was emerging phenomenon, they aren’t whole but they are more than merely the sum of their parts.

    You deny self-organization as a mystery, pointing to evolutionary algorithms and the emergent complexity of simple rule following components. But this is just handwaving.

    Funnily enough, describing it as self-organising is what I would call handwaving. We can see how algorithms work, both in nature and in the abstract sense. The way a solar system forms is algorithmic, emergent from the interaction of matter. How does matter self-organise? One can explain solar systems given the properties of matter and its concentration, what can you do? Metaphysical handwaving at the inadequacy of reductionistic explanations, without offering any meaningful solution of your own… no wonder people have a problem with “metaphysics”!

    The algorithmic approach of someone like Dennett completely ignores the fact that DNA is an inert molecule that would quickly degenerate without being embedded in the living dynamism of the cellular matrix.

    And if you take out your heart, you will die. The heart itself is vital to you being alive, but on its own is inert. What does this show exactly? Yes, the DNA molecule is inert without its machinery, but the origins of DNA is most likely found as a consequence of the algorithmic approach – a feedback loop if you like. I don’t think there’s any biologist out there advocating DNA on its own as the origin of digitally-replicating matter. Once DNA gets bootstrapped into existing cellular and replicating structure, it might provide new opportunities for replication – I’m told that DNA is a much better replicator than RNA in terms of the capacity for size and fidelity, so the invention of DNA in terms of already digitally replicating cells dissolves the problem you raise.

    To my mind, the metaphysical implications of emergentism are simple: organism (rather than mechanism) is basic to nature. Organisms, as defined by Kant, are beings who ends are internal to themselves, while mechanisms have ends external to themselves.

    If you make some predictions using this model that can be tested and found superior to current “mechanistic” explanations, then I think you might have a case. Right now, it seems a lot of metaphysical handwaving and dismissing reductionist explanations without actually showing where those explanations go wrong. It’s just pointless sophistry, and what good does that do?

  172. 172
    Kel

    “By the way, the opposite of reductionism, holism – the idea that the only legitimate explanations are in terms of higher-level systems – is an even greater error than reductionism. What do holists expect us to do? Cease our search for the molecular origins of diseases? Deny that human beings are made of subatomic particles? Where reductive explanations exist, they are just as desirable as any other explanations. Where whole sciences are reducible to lower-level sciences, it is just as incumbent on us as scientists to find those reductions as it is to discover any other knowledge.” – David Deutsch (The Fabric Of Reality)

  173. 173
    matthewsegall

    Thanks for your response, Daniel.

    I used the word “blind” because material bodies are usually conceived to lack not only qualitative experience, but purposeful intention. A computer program is designed by human beings to be purposeful. It has no purposes of its own. Similarly, it has no knowledge. Knowing is what conscious human beings do with the help of their computers. I would grant that computers can simulate knowledge and purpose, but we call it a simulation precisely because it is a poor copy of the real thing.

    Part of philosophizing, I’d suggest, is coming to terms with the conditions that make scientific knowledge of the world possible. What is human intelligence such that it is capable of scientifically explaining the universe? Philosophy is the attempt to understand the process of knowing itself, and to grasp what reality must be like given such a process. When we take off our philosopher’s cap and put on our lab coats and say with scientific authority that the brain simulates goals and desires, we often fail to follow the epistemic implication of our statement to its logical conclusion. The scientific enterprise is itself a goal-oriented activity, something human beings do because they desire knowledge. When the scientist says that their brain merely simulates purposefulness because it was contingently selected by “blind” evolutionary pressures to do so, they undermine the epistemological foundations of their own pursuit.

    I will explicitly reject the idea of an elan vital or ghost in the machine being necessary to explain life and consciousness. Such ad hoc explanations prevent a systematic understanding of the whole of the universe as a seamless process of evolution. Rather, I am questioning our understanding of matter itself by suggesting the possibility that it is, in some sense, always already living, purposeful, sensitive, etc. Matter isn’t purposeful in the same way that a human engineer is purposeful: an atom doesn’t plan out its next move, it simply follows gravitational gradients or chemical tendencies. But it feels these gradients and tendencies, it suffers them; I’m saying there is something it is like to be an iron atom undergoing oxidation. No material process is a blind, mechanical process. All processes are experiential. Or at least that is what I am proposing.

    To answer the questions you pose me at the end of your comment more directly: I do find the analogy problematic, since it is precisely in the analogy of human to natural selection that Darwin’s brilliant theory begins to breakdown. The theory of evolution by natural selection only works if we take his metaphorical transfer of the agency of the human selector to the natural selector seriously. For his theory to make sense, nature must be imaginatively anthropomorphized, otherwise his theory is a mere tautology: those species which survive today survive because they survived in the past. There is a poetry to science, especially to the messier science of biology. So long as we recognize the slippery nature of our metaphors, they can help us grasp the infinite complexity of the evolving universe. But let us not forget that knowledge is built up of poetic metaphors just as much as it is based on plain facts!

  174. 174
    Ing

    For his theory to make sense, nature must be imaginatively anthropomorphized, otherwise his theory is a mere tautology: those species which survive today survive because they survived in the past.

    Epic fail.

    Those species exist today because their ancestors survived in the past, to the exclusion of their ancestors contemporaries.

  175. 175
    Ing

    There is a poetry to science, especially to the messier science of biology. So long as we recognize the slippery nature of our metaphors, they can help us grasp the infinite complexity of the evolving universe.

    You clearly suck at biology, I wouldn’t rush to add poetry to that list.

  176. 176
    Kel

    The theory of evolution by natural selection only works if we take his metaphorical transfer of the agency of the human selector to the natural selector seriously.

    No it doesn’t. You’re making the same mistake as Jerry Fodor. A mutation that allows a predator to be able to sneak up on its prey better has no conscious selector, but it will be an adaptation that subsequently spreads through the generations. No anthropomorphising required.

  177. 177
    Kel

    “Can it, then, be thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should sometimes occur in the course of thousands of generations? If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection, and would be left a fluctuating element, as perhaps we see in the species called polymorphic.” – Charles Darwin (The Origin Of Species)

    He laid it out very concisely, it’s really hard to imagine how people somehow think the process is either tautological or has implicit agency. If there is variation (there is), and if that various has differential survival value for the organism (it does), then we should see the favouring of beneficial mutation and the rejection of unfavourable mutation. Not hard!

  178. 178
    matthewsegall

    Kel,

    Again, my gripe is not with the empirical discoveries and predictions of science, but with the metaphysical explanations that are offered by reductionists to account for them. If it is true that nature is composed of self-organizing wholes all the way down, then we’d expect to find such self-organizing wholes when we look at the very small and the very large. This is, in fact, what we find! Atoms are self-organizing wholes, just like galaxies. Unless you are willing to say that there is some smallest thing that is only a part, and not itself a whole composed of even smaller parts ad infinitum, then you would seem to be in agreement with me.

    Clearly there is more to matter than meets the eye, especially considering the recent “discoveries” of dark matter and dark energy (it seems we didn’t so much as discover these as invent placeholder concepts while admitting our ignorance). Spirit is intimately related to brain activity, but unless we are to deny our own everyday, commonsense experience of being moral agents, then spirit cannot be just brain activity. It may be more correct to say brain activity is the 3D material trace of a higher dimensional spiritual activity. I suspect that dark energy/matter will eventually be understood using some similar notion of higher dimensional space-time. If it turns out that the influence of these higher dimensions is in some sense “intelligent,” being that they are responsible for much of the order we see in the 3D manifest dimension, then why not call them spiritual?

  179. 179
    Ing

    Again, my gripe is not with the empirical discoveries and predictions of science, but with the metaphysical explanations that are offered by reductionists to account for them. If it is true that nature is composed of self-organizing wholes all the way down, then we’d expect to find such self-organizing wholes when we look at the very small and the very large. This is, in fact, what we find! Atoms are self-organizing wholes, just like galaxies. Unless you are willing to say that there is some smallest thing that is only a part, and not itself a whole composed of even smaller parts ad infinitum, then you would seem to be in agreement with me.

    This is just moronic.

    A galaxy is not just like an atom. And yes there are base particles that build up atoms, they have no smaller make up. They’re gonna be the end.

  180. 180
    Ing

    If it turns out that the influence of these higher dimensions is in some sense “intelligent,” being that they are responsible for much of the order we see in the 3D manifest dimension, then why not call them spiritual?

    Why not call them Slyphs?

  181. 181
    matthewsegall

    Kel,

    I agree, Darwin’s explanation is elegant and simple. I’m only trying to point out how his metaphor gains such explanatory power.

  182. 182
    Kel

    Again, my gripe is not with the empirical discoveries and predictions of science, but with the metaphysical explanations that are offered by reductionists to account for them.

    But the empirical discoveries of science have come from using reductionist explanations. You’re trying to metaphysic out the metaphysics that’s at the heart of the success!

    Clearly there is more to matter than meets the eye, especially considering the recent “discoveries” of dark matter and dark energy (it seems we didn’t so much as discover these as invent placeholder concepts while admitting our ignorance).

    There might be more than meets the eye, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything valid in spiritualist accounts of matter.

    Spirit is intimately related to brain activity, but unless we are to deny our own everyday, commonsense experience of being moral agents, then spirit cannot be just brain activity.

    What else could it be, then? And what’s wrong with any sense that conscious experience is a certain subset of brain activity?

  183. 183
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    The theory of evolution by natural selection only works if we take his metaphorical transfer of the agency of the human selector to the natural selector seriously.

    To quote the Mythbusters, “there’s your problem. What human selector? That is pure and utter nonsense. A human selector only exists in animal husbandry. Why natural selection works, and it does. I think you are falling into the creation/creator selection/selector line false thinking. With natural selection, the “selector” is the ability to survive long enough to bring forth slightly more adult (reproducing) progeny than average.

  184. 184
    Kel

    I agree, Darwin’s explanation is elegant and simple. I’m only trying to point out how his metaphor gains such explanatory power.

    And like Jerry Fodor, you’re mistaken in this. If you can show me why a beetle being better hidden from predators would require agency for those genes to further propagate through nature, then you might have a point. Until then, you’re confusing the analogy with the process.

  185. 185
    Ing

    but unless we are to deny our own everyday, commonsense experience of being moral agents, then spirit cannot be just brain activity.

    Why?

  186. 186
    Ing

    This isn’t evolution denial. This is physics denial

    “I don’t believe things work the way we see they work”

    I fail to see how we are moral agents when there’s a supernatural puppetmaster adding conscience agent to every sub atomic particle that makes us up.

  187. 187
    Kel

    I wonder what Matthew’s posts would be like if they weren’t so aggrandising and contained more substance. One can talk of the metaphysical implications until they are blue in the face, but all it looks like is someone trying to sound deep without doing anything other than extrapolating introspection in the face of an ever-more-successful methodology that’s painting that introspection as limited…

  188. 188
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    My problem with “metaphysical” is that it was appropriated by the counter-culture back in the 60′s as an excuse for using mind-altering drugs. Add in the Indian mystics using similar illogical jargon, and it just became a null word, meaningless except for an excuse to bullshit people. While metaphysics has a use in philosophy, it has the problem that the present usage isn’t based on reality, as the reality based portion was absorbed into science and lost to philosophy. *from Wiki*

    Prior to the modern history of science, scientific questions were addressed as a part of metaphysics known as natural philosophy. The term science itself meant “knowledge” of, originating from epistemology. The scientific method, however, transformed natural philosophy into an empirical activity deriving from experiment unlike the rest of philosophy. By the end of the 18th century, it had begun to be called “science” to distinguish it from philosophy. Thereafter, metaphysics denoted philosophical enquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence.[6]

  189. 189
    matthewsegall

    Nerd,

    Have you ever used a mind-altering drug? How would you characterize such alterations? What do you make of nobel winning scientists like Francis Crick and Kary Mullis admitting they used LSD to aid their research?

    http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/01/70015?currentPage=all

  190. 190
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Matthew,
    There are reasons why science is reductionist–a reductionist theory will tend to yield the most reliable predictions. Simplicity–whether one’s metric is Occam’s razor or Akaike Information Criterion–is essential to making science work.

    So, my questions to you:
    What does “spirit” explain that a materialist description cannot explain just as well if not better?

    How is a world with “spirit” observably different from a world that is purely material?

    Finally, there are a whole helluva lot more Nobel laureates who hae not dropped acid than there are who have–and I know of no Nobel Laureate that has credited mind altering chemicals with materially assisting him or her in their prize-winning research.

  191. 191
    Ing

    Have you ever used a mind-altering drug? How would you characterize such alterations? What do you make of nobel winning scientists like Francis Crick and Kary Mullis admitting they used LSD to aid their research?

    I actually suspect the stolen crystallography helped more than the drugs.

  192. 192
    Kel

    What do you make of nobel winning scientists like Francis Crick and Kary Mullis admitting they used LSD to aid their research?

    Van Gogh fallacy

  193. 193
    Ing

    See also

    Glowing Alien Raccoon

  194. 194
    Ing

    @Kel

    Watson and Crick were successful, therefore everyone should break into other people’s labs and steal data!

  195. 195
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Since metaphysics isn’t based on present reality, it has to show conclusive physical evidence that it is based on reality for it to be meaningful (not just mental masturbation going nowhere). So, go grab that spirit MS, weigh and measure it, describe its properties, and publish the findings in a peer reviewed scientific journal. Or it doesn’t exist except as mental wankery between your ears.

  196. 196
    dmu111

    How dear he spread heresy in the Temple of the Godless. Let’s burn this guy as a witch!

  197. 197
    Kel

    To shift patterns a little, it’s like crediting the LSD for the Beatles music instead of all the years they spent learning their instruments and writing songs. Even if we grant that the LSD helped them in their songwriting, crediting LSD’s role in creativity in art is going to at best be a minor thing. It certainly doesn’t mean that anyone taking LSD and picking up an instrument is going to be the better for it, or that LSD is the source of creativity.

    And to get back on point, even if taking LSD helped in Crick’s research – it certainly doesn’t mean that taking LSD is going to be a means to understanding reality.

  198. 198
    matthewsegall

    a_ray_in_dilbert_space,

    The main problem with thinking of the world as purely material is that it leaves out the process of thinking from the nature of the world. Spirit is invoked by philosophers like Kant, Coleridge, Emerson, Schelling, and Hegel or by poets like Holderlin, Rilke, Coleridge, and Keats in order to account for the presence of consciousness in the world. If our goal is to understand reality, there is more than explanation of the external circumstances of nature; we must also account for our own soul’s relationship to those circumstances, for our conscience, for our inner life. Spirit is that in us which is free, that which makes morally significant decisions and binds the inner turmoil of the soul into personal identity. Spirit is our knowledge of self, that which makes learning and so knowledge of the world possible. Without first having spiritually achieved conscious selfhood by awaking to this unity of inner life, the rigorous logic demanded of scientific accuracy would remain inaccessible. Spirit explains how scientific knowledge of the world as it really is is possible for the human organism. Without spirit, we would have no reason to believe that what society considered to be “true” cogitations concerning the universe were anything more than subtle evolutionary ploys to increase the scientist’s likelihood of surviving until the age of sexual maturity [and as an aside, I don't mean to deny Darwin's discovery of the importance of sexual and natural selection, only to point out that it can't possibly be the whole of the story]. Scientific investigation is itself a spiritual activity; what more appropriate name ought we to choose to describe science? A being in the universe decides it ought to know the truth about itself through logic and experimentation? Is that not a spiritual event if there ever was one in the history of the earth?

    What do you mean by “material” assistance in regard to psychedelics? Clearly, psychedelics reveal that consciousness and chemicals are intimately related; somehow these neurotransmitter-like compounds (found throughout the plant and fungi kingdoms) are able to dramatically alter a human beings perception of reality. Perhaps there is no more relevant experiment in the emerging but still interdisciplinary field of consciousness studies (which includes philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists, among others) than the psychedelic “trip.”

    For fun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YWu86y-hHs

  199. 199
    Ing

    The main problem with thinking of the world as purely material is that it leaves out the process of thinking from the nature of the world.

    What?

  200. 200
    Kel
    The main problem with thinking of the world as purely material is that it leaves out the process of thinking from the nature of the world.

    What?

    Exactly!

    Matthew Segall is arguing against problem of his own perception of materialism. It’s no wonder he can act so condescendingly about the failures of materialism is that is the kind of thing he thinks materialists deny!

  201. 201
    consciousness razor

    The main problem with thinking of the world as purely material is that it leaves out the process of thinking from the nature of the world.

    No it doesn’t. One doesn’t need to assume the process of thinking has some non-material nature. Or do we? You haven’t shown that such an assumption is necessary to explain anything. Just try to give an example of something non-material. Is “thought” (or an equivalent) the only example? Give a single example of something which thinks that you know cannot be explained completely in terms of material interactions, then explain it instead on your own terms (assuming they’re correct or even meaningful).

    Or continue blathering about nothing. It’s up to you.

    Spirit is our knowledge of self, that which makes learning and so knowledge of the world possible. Without first having spiritually achieved conscious selfhood by awaking to this unity of inner life, the rigorous logic demanded of scientific accuracy would remain inaccessible.

    You don’t have that kind of knowledge. What processes are occurring in your auditory cortex right now? That knowledge is inaccessible by introspection or by assuming the existence of some “spirit.” Yet if I asked you what you could hear right now (if anything), I’m sure you could conjure up even more “spiritual” nonsense to try to describe what you think is happening, because you’re confused and ignorant and don’t take proper explanations more seriously than your bullshitting.

  202. 202
    matthewsegall

    Re: What?

    Materialists believe their own thoughts and beliefs can be explained as brain activity. Am I mistaken? I think such an explanation leaves out what is essential to consciousness (i.e., to thinking, feeling, and willing).

  203. 203
    Ing

    Materialists believe their own thoughts and beliefs can be explained as brain activity. Am I mistaken? I think such an explanation leaves out what is essential to consciousness (i.e., to thinking, feeling, and willing).

    Then you are an idiot. The evidence indicates that those things are done by the brain activity. How is observing that leaving it out?

    You’re saying that the explanation of hydrostatics and capillary action and all that leaves no room for water being wet.

  204. 204
    consciousness razor

    I think such an explanation leaves out what is essential to consciousness (i.e., to thinking, feeling, and willing).

    Then what is essential?

    Since this was an answer “re: What?”, I would expect that at some point we wouldn’t have to keep asking “What?” while watching you mentally masturbate. If you think there is something to be explained, then in so many words: what the fuck is it that you think needs to be explained?

  205. 205
    Kel

    Materialists believe their own thoughts and beliefs can be explained as brain activity. Am I mistaken?

    You’re mistaken in thinking that explaining = explaining away.

    What’s the problem with thoughts being brain activity? Are you making the same mistake Frank Jackson did?

  206. 206
    Kel

    The question is, Matthew, if consciousness is something more than brain activity, then what is it? It’s all well and good to say that the brain is not up to the task of cognition, but it’s another thing to actually show there’s something more going on. And no matter how much LSD you take, you’re never going to show that there’s something other than brain activity going on until you show that the brain is not involved in the phenomenon you claim is not just brain activity.

    What else could it be if not your brain?

  207. 207
    matthewsegall

    The problem of the emergence of consciousness is an order of magnitude more difficult than the problem of the emergence of wetness.

    A contemporary Whiteheadian philosopher, David Ray Griffin, is perhaps the clearest author I know concerning the issue of the mind/body or spirit/matter relation. He argues, following Whitehead, for a non-dual creative polarity between the mental and physical faces of reality. He also argues rather convincingly that the concept of emergence cannot account for the evolutionary arrival of consciousness in an otherwise blind and mechanical universe. The evolutionary “emergence” of consciousness suggests the sudden existence of an entirely new realm never before seen or suspected in nature. Griffin instead posits that some form of proto-experience had to be there alongside material organization from the beginning for its later evolution into conscious minds to be possible.

    A helpful essay by him on the topic: http://www.anthonyflood.com/griffinmatterconsciousness00.htm

  208. 208
    Kel

    The problem of the emergence of consciousness is an order of magnitude more difficult than the problem of the emergence of wetness.

    Who is saying the problem is easy? That it’s a difficult problem, however, doesn’t mean that consciousness is anything other than brain activity.

  209. 209
    matthewsegall

    Kel,

    I’d want to suggest that physical activity is far stranger than the sterilized concept of matter normally thrown around by atheists and sceptics. Consider the so-called “vibrant materialism” of the philosopher Jane Bennett. Here is an summary of her recent book and an interview with her: http://philosophyinatimeoferror.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/vibrant-matters-an-interview-with-jane-bennett/

  210. 210
    matthewsegall

    An insightful lecture by Bennett on her book “Vital Materialism” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q607Ni23QjA

  211. 211
    Kel

    My bandwidth is currently being taken up grabbing Richard Feynman lectures.

    The question is, what qualifies atheists or sceptics to define matter? Surely we’d be looking to physicists for that…

  212. 212
    feralboy12

    The linked article at anthonyflood.com starts out with this:

    it is impossible to understand how our conscious experience, which we know exists, could arise out of the body,

    Which is argument from ignorance.
    And since all those things supposedly unaccounted for–thinking, feeling, willing–are all affected by changes to the brain, there is no reason to believe they arise from anything else. I didn’t get far with the article after the incredulous beginning, but I did skim for some sort of testable hypothesis as to another source of consciousness.
    You can test the brain as source theory quite simply–smack yourself behind the ear with a monkey wrench. If you do it right, you damage your brain and that magical consciousness might just go away for a bit.
    OK, don’t do that–but think about it. Physical changes to the brain, like injury and chemicals, affects all those properties associated with personality, thinking, feeling, etc.

  213. 213
    Ing

    Vitalism was long rejected

  214. 214
    matthewsegall

    feralboy12,

    Given the available data, what is to prevent us from adopting the brain as receiver theory? Assailing the brain with hammers or psychedelics will of course change consciousness, just like turning the dial on a radio changes the channel; but the source of the radio show is not inside the radio.

    The only test to determine which of the two theories is correct that I can think of is death and NDEs (aside from some experiments done by Michael Persinger that I’m still thinking about; see him describing his research here: http://footnotes2plato.com/2011/05/14/michael-persinger-on-non-local-consciousness/). If it all goes black when we die, then the brain is the source. If something else happens after brain death–anything else–then we know the source model is false.

  215. 215
    Kel

    I’d want to suggest that physical activity is far stranger than the sterilized concept of matter normally thrown around by atheists and sceptics.

    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

  216. 216
    Kel

    Given the available data, what is to prevent us from adopting the brain as receiver theory?

    The lack of any region of the brain to act as a receiver. Decsartes 400 years ago posited the pineal gland, and research into the brain has come a long way since then…

  217. 217
    matthewsegall

    Kel,

    Yes, research on how neural tissue can act as a receiver of consciousness (understood now as a field-phenomenon) has come a long way.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=brain-electric-field

  218. 218
    consciousness razor

    Given the available data, what is to prevent us from adopting the brain as receiver theory?

    It isn’t a theory.

    Assailing the brain with hammers or psychedelics will of course change consciousness, just like turning the dial on a radio changes the channel; but the source of the radio show is not inside the radio.

    To make sense of this analogy, we would need some analogue for the difference in location between the source of the radio signal and the receiving unit, as well as an analogue for how the signal is transmitted through some kind of space and some kind of time. So where or when is the source of consciousness, and how is it transmitted? (Since you clearly have no idea what you’re talking about, I don’t expect an reasonable answer; but since all you’ve got is rhetoric, I don’t need to reply with anything more substantial.)

    In fact, I thought your argument was instead that consciousness is inherent to all matter, independent of configurations of it. If you’re arguing for that, this bullshit about radios doesn’t help you unless you’re a very odd kind of dualist, because it’s positing something like a configuration of two (or more) distinct entities, not something like an inherent property. It would make you an odd kind of dualist because (if I’m not mistaken) dualists don’t tend to think of the mental or spiritual as another location literally, though the metaphors are slippery enough and of course there are exceptions like common interpretations of “heaven” and “hell.”

  219. 219
    feralboy12

    NDE’s are worthless, since near-death is really just another word for not-death. The brain didn’t die, the signals didn’t stop. And I think all the visuals can be explained as simple wave patterns across the visual cortex.
    Which leaves death–and we can only observe that in others, obviously. Nothing has ever been reliably detected leaving the body at death, and if the brain is a receiver of something, you’ll need to find a way, outside of a human brain, to detect that something. Unless and until that happens, I’ll apply Occam’s Razor and give (provisional, as always) agreement with the notion that consciousness is a product of the brain. Anything else requires a big fat ad hoc assumption.

  220. 220
    Kel

    Yes, research on how neural tissue can act as a receiver of consciousness (understood now as a field-phenomenon) has come a long way.

    How does that show anything to do with consciousness?

  221. 221
    matthewsegall

    consciousness razor,

    There are multiple sources of the signal. The electrochemical activity within each living brain leads to the generation of its own signals, which can then feedback into the same brain (this is what many neuroscientists are hypothesizing causes global neural synchrony). The signals of other brains are also being received. The lower frequency signals of the Earth and the Sun seem to be rather dominant in our experience, foundational in fact; they provide the local fields responsible for the conditions necessary to generate our kind of consciousness. The light of the Sun is intimately related to the whole history of life on Earth, to what became physiologically and so perceptibly possible for it. Light shapes the eye, as Goethe realized. “The eye was made by the light, for the light, so that the inner light may emerge to meet the outer light.”

  222. 222
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Matthew Segall is Piltdown Man on ecstacy.

  223. 223
    feralboy12

    OK, so the brain responds to its own electrical field, and brain tissue responds to electrical fields generated in the lab. Nothing there to suggest consciousness arises anywhere outside the brain. In fact, the brain responding to a field it creates in a kind of feedback loop that regulates activity sounds like the sort of dynamical system of coupled components obeying fixed rules with feedback that results in emergent behavior.
    Now, the study of emergent behavior is, I think, still in its infancy–the sort of computing power required to model even fairly simple dynamic systems only began to exist in the last 50 years or so–but until there’s some evidence that consciousness can exist apart from the brain, I’ll be using Occam’s razor. I haven’t cut myself with it yet.

  224. 224
    Kel

    There are multiple sources of the signal. The electrochemical activity within each living brain leads to the generation of its own signals, which can then feedback into the same brain (this is what many neuroscientists are hypothesizing causes global neural synchrony). The signals of other brains are also being received. The lower frequency signals of the Earth and the Sun seem to be rather dominant in our experience, foundational in fact; they provide the local fields responsible for the conditions necessary to generate our kind of consciousness. The light of the Sun is intimately related to the whole history of life on Earth, to what became physiologically and so perceptibly possible for it. Light shapes the eye, as Goethe realized. “The eye was made by the light, for the light, so that the inner light may emerge to meet the outer light.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ou6JNQwPWE0

  225. 225
    feralboy12

    Matthew Segall is Piltdown Man on ecstacy.

    It’s like I went to a biology blog and the Oregon Country Fair broke out.

  226. 226
    matthewsegall

    Kel,

    Kubric has a way with movies. I think Malick’s “Tree of Life” is rather sublime as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkUBECRoAwM&feature=related

  227. 227
    consciousness razor

    matthewsegall, #221:

    How very materialistic of you. Thanks for conceding the point. I mean, you’re still wrong, but at least you’ve temporarily stopped pretending “spiritual” explains anything. If you decide to go back to the dark side, don’t let me know. It’s been very boring for years now.

    love moderately ॐ:

    Matthew Segall is Piltdown Man on ecstacy.

    I thought he was more like Shiloh; but I couldn’t say who was on more or less ecstacy, LSD, or whose brain has been assailed more by hammers, or what-have-you. For what it’s worth, Segall does seem somewhat less like a Shilohesque credulous fool and more like a pretentious crank.

  228. 228
    Kel

    I think Malick’s “Tree of Life” is rather sublime as well

    It’s on my “to see” list.

  229. 229
    Kel

    I thought he was more like Shiloh

    That’s unfair – Shiloh couldn’t think his way through basic sentences.

  230. 230
    consciousness razor

    That’s unfair – Shiloh couldn’t think his way through basic sentences.

    I meant he’s like Shiloh in his views and some arguments for them. The stuff about NDEs and the radio analogy definitely gave me a flashback, which I’m pretty sure was not LSD-induced or transmitted from the spirit realm or the astral plane or whatever the fuck Segall thought he was talking about.

    It wouldn’t exactly be fair to compare him to Pilty either, considering he’s such a nasty, authoritarian fucker and a devout Catholic, but I repeat myself. I could also at least get a handle on what his views were, despite being wrong or harmful.

    Not so with Segall. One minute particles have some form of consciousness and are themselves “spiritual,” the next we’re talking about radio transmissions. So I don’t know exactly which basic sentences Segall can’t think his way through, but I have no doubt that there are some.

  231. 231
    Kel

    I really want to see Piltdown Man on ecstacy now.

  232. 232
    Kel

    I’d just be happy if Matthew Segall would lose the anti-materialist rhetoric, and instead worked hard to make a more grounded point. He might have something to his position, but it’s damn hard to find something with enough substance to try to get my head around.

    I’ve said this before to Matthew, but it’s something that really needs to be said again. If you’ve got something to say, it’s no good if you can’t adequately communicate it. If you have achieved enlightenment or had some insights into the metaphysical implications, then you need to be able to express that in such a way so that other people can understand it. Because, otherwise, people won’t be able to understand you, and your enlightenment is indistinguishable from quackery.

  233. 233
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ Matthew Segall

    The light of the Sun is intimately related to the whole history of life on Earth, to what became physiologically and so perceptibly possible for it.

    Old news (if you want to believe it):

    And when her angels [of our Earth Mother] shall have cleansed and renewed your bodies and strengthened your eyes, you will be able to bear the light of our Heavenly Father. When you can gaze on the brightness of the noonday sun with unflinching eyes, you can then look upon the blinding light of your Heavenly Father, which is a thousand times brighter than the brightness of a thousand suns… etc etc yadda yadda

    ……………….

    the inner light may emerge to meet the outer light

    Seeing is something you “do” to your environment? Let me guess…. you are male?

    /yawn

  234. 234
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    YAWN, NDEs are explained as natural processes.

    Still waiting for the evidence for consciousness being anything other than manifestation of bioware. I think I’ll be waiting a long time, as MS is allergic to real evidence, and prefers useless mental wanking. Which makes him feel good, but he should do it in private, not at this blog, and wash himself afterwards.

  235. 235
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    Matthew@198,
    Matthew@198,
    OK, if I can try to extract a point from that metaphysical gobbledegook, it would seem to that you are arguing that a purely material world cannot account for the “emergent epi-phenomena” of consciousness, “free will”, etc.

    First, I would point out that it is unclear whether such epi-phenomena exist in reality or whether we merely have an illusion of them. A purely materialistic theory would have zero problem explaining our having an illusion of such experiences.

    It is more difficult to arrive at anything like true free will in a mechanistic universe. At most, you wind up with a very complicated system with complex positive and negative feedback and a degree of randomness. While not truly, free, the behaviors of this system would be indistinguishable from a truly free system. This would probably be true even for the actor, as we know humans tend to construct our rationalizations for our actions a posteriori.

    However, I would point out that positing a “spirit” makes the problem no easier. If you are contending that the spirit determines actions in the material world, but is not in turn determined by the material world, you are positing an entity that acts on the world but is not acted upon. There is no evidence that such an entity can exist and no such mechanism evident in the world. All dualism does is move the inevitable difficulty caused by consciousness, free will, etc. back one step so that it is not so glaringly obvious. It is still there. Spiritualism resolves nothing.

    So you are positing not just another substance, but another realm beyond the material—a realm which manifests only in the phenomena you are trying to explain and yields no testable hypotheses. Your proposition is inherently unverifiable. Hence it is bullshit. You might as well assert that our free will arises from the consciousness of an invisible pink elephant that paints its toenails with invisible blue nail polish. The hypothesis is equally testable and of equal value.

  236. 236
    Ing

    Given the available data, what is to prevent us from adopting the brain as receiver theory?

    Short answer: Lack of available data.

    Longer answer: Saying we can’t disprove it doesn’t make something a viable alternative. It in fact automatically makes it less than something that can be demonstrated or doens’t work on a presumption that can’t be shown. Furthermore, it is a hypothesis that should be readily demonstratable with experimentation. That’s how science works, we think If this was so, what would it mean? If brains are recievers to outside signals…then if the brain is damaged the signal should remain, like a radio… So if hypothesis is true, we already know that the signal can interact with the physical world, thus it can be measured. Thus we should be able to build a faux receiver, like what Edison tried to build with his necrophone. We should be able to get at least a gauge needle moving when it picks up something, if not be able to pick up a mind entirely.

    Furthermore, nothing about the brain acts like a receiver for an outside signal (no mechanism for one) for two the alleged signal if it exists cannot reasonably be called the conscious mind. When a radio is broken and picks up it’s signal improperly it produces most often garbage noise. It does not produce a perfectly understandable and workable radio program that is different than that broadcasted on the signal. This is what we see with brain injury and other things. Personalities change. It isn’t just errant data, it still acts as a mind and still functions, it is just different. You can’t damage a radio when you’re picking up The Shadow and get The Blue Beetle, you get The Big Nothing. If the signal does exist, changing the brain changes the person, which means the signal itself is not the source of the mind . It would be like a heart beat; naturally necessary for functioning but clearly not the source of the person since you can remove it, stop it and replace it with a machine.

    In conclusion there is good ethical and philosophical reasons to reject this hypothesis without evidence. The idea of a philosophical zombie is very dangerous. If people believe that beings are not persons but merely mockpersons, despite showing all the characteristics of personhood, because they allegedly lack a unmeasurable vital essence abuse will be justified. This is what we saw with anti-semitism (yes including Hitler), the Jews weren’t people, they just acted like people but were metaphysically different. This is what justified the Christian slave trade to many, it was actual doctrine (though argument went back and forth) that blacks were human like beasts that lacked a soul and thus are free to be captured and domesticated like any other beast of burden (in accordance to God’s command). It causes people to disregard the body and slide into solipsism. You can damage the body because the soul is safe. Scalia has given talks justifying the death penalty even with it killing innocents because of this belief. In a more transhumanist/sci-fi view it may cause greater problems down the road if we ever find a non-human person (either synthetically made or naturally occurring). This is a belief that is unfounded and causes real harm.

    The mechanistic view of the mind no more degrades the artistic and poetic view of the mind, than does our knowledge of pigments and light waves degrade the visual arts. In fact it improves the picture. It’s the difference between acknowledging that Michelangelo was a great artist and claiming that Michelangelo was a vessel for God’s gift. The metaphysical and supernatural claim diminishes the real work and engineering that went into developing a mind that can display such a talent. There are serious negative implications to this view and we should not jump to it without confirming evidence.

    Teal Dear Version: Ignorance isn’t a good reason. We don’t see the evidence that should exist. The belief itself was, is and in the future will be harmful.

  237. 237
    coralline

    matthewsegall, @ 117:

    Yes, research on how neural tissue can act as a receiver of consciousness (understood now as a field-phenomenon) has come a long way.

    Good. Define “field phenomenon”, then. I’m guessing that you’re viewing consciousness (which also needs to be defined, but let’s leave that for later, mmmkay?) as some sort of _something_, sloshing around from place to place within a brain, and occasionally from one brain to another. Is that a fair assessment?

    In that case, what, exactly, is sloshing? Is it a locally-conserved — or at least paraconserved — phenomenon? (Hint: it’d better be, or you’re going to have massive problems with relativity.) Can we renormalize it? Does its movement follow a wave equation? If so, to couple to brain structures, it’d better have a wavelength considerably smaller than, say, a few cm.

    Finally: what are the typical energy scales of this coupling?

  238. 238
    Nick Gotts

    David Ray Griffin is a fuckwitted kook, just like matthewsegall. He was a theologian by profession, and is now a 9/11 truther.

  239. 239
    Nick Gotts

    Yes, research on how neural tissue can act as a receiver of consciousness (understood now as a field-phenomenon) has come a long way. – matthewsegall

    Complete and utter tosh. There is no such “research”, in any meaning which has anything to do with science.

  240. 240
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    In his next book, Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action (2006), he summarizes some of what he believes is evidence for government complicity and reflects on its implications for Christians. The Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, publishers of the book, noted that Griffin is a distinguished theologian, and praised the book’s religious content, but said, “The board believes the conspiracy theory is spurious and based on questionable research.”

    Now there‘s a publisher with integrity!

  241. 241
    maxdevlin

    I believe PZ misunderstood Paul Nelson’s statement: “My mind is doing that.”

    It was not the process (incompletely understood) of his mind but the existence of his mind (that it can ‘do’ any thing at all), which he was marveling at. This is for many people a critical issue in terms of self-awareness and self-determination. This isn’t an issue that is satisfied or answered by atheistic certainty, but merely glossed over. The philosophical tools (words) do not yet exist to satisfy any alternative approach. Somewhere between physical states of the brain and a personal identity, PZ’s explanations break down just as much (in fact, worse) than Nelson’s. Whether you call it or think of it as physiology, spirituality, or psychology, when it comes down to it (and despite our strongest thinkers) they are equally useless.

    According to materialism, none of us have, or can have, free will. At all. There can in fact be no such thing: all causes are caused. So if you believe yourself to be a materialist, and believe yourself to have free will, then you are not thinking things through to the end. Is there such a thing as a Paul Nelson who can ‘will’ his arm to flex? Either you are imagining such an entity simply to explain (due to your own local ignorance) the actions of his body, or some sort of metaphysical reality beyond materialism must exist, and you are both just quibbling about its materially inaccessible qualities, right? His delusion that there is a God and Paul Nelson is no more or less delusional than your delusion that there is only a PZ Myers.

    Of course the answer, as vehemently denied by most atheists as by most religious, is that we don’t have free will. Just self-determination (the capacity for local knowledge) and an organized way of imagining that we have more than that, known as language.

  242. 242
    matthewsegall

    maxdevlin,

    I appreciate you carrying your thinking about materialism through to the end. But I don’t think we need to stop there. Free will is a hardcore commonsense notion, a basic belief we must take for granted about life even in order to deny it. The will is that in us which thinks, and though it is true that thoughts sometimes appear to us as if from outside, thereby condition us, it is also true that I can think, and that when I think, I am at least potentially free from outside conditions. If this is not true, if I cannot think free of the appearance of all that conditions me, then the form of truth-finding known as science is impossible. Science is not only knowledge of what conditions, but of how to change and even create those conditions. Consider the inner activity of the geometrician. They recreate the structure of the world before their mind’s eye, freely playing with pure form, the plasticity of imagination their only material constraint. To theorize about why things appear the way they do to our senses, free will must be possible. To deny free will is to deny the very scientific mode of thinking we claim gave us knowledge of the brain’s determinism. Because free will is a hardcore commonsense notion that we cannot deny without contradicting ourselves in the very act of doing so, any metaphysics that suggests its impossibility must be a false or at least overly abstract metaphysics.

  243. 243
    Kel

    If materialism is true, then it has to explain all the capacities we observe us as having. Materialism has to explain consciousness, materialism has to explain decision-making, etc. If people have a conception of materialism that’s so easily refuted by waving a hand, then it’s probably an uncharitable interpretation.

    One could just as easily respond to Max Devlin that Paul Nelson wasn’t free to flex his hand; that based on the inputs and the layout of Paul Nelson’s brain that it was inevitable that Paul Nelson would have his arm. That account is perfectly compatible with the notion of determinism and with materialism. Whether or not it’s right is another matter, or whether or not one needs indeterminism to have free will is another matter still.

    I really wonder why it is people come in with such caricatures of materialism; what does it prove beyond their personal lack of understanding of what materialism entails?

    “[T]wentieth-century computer technology should at least make us cautious about laying down a priori what material structures could not do” – J. L. Mackie

  244. 244
    Hurin

    Matthiew

    What do you mean by “material” assistance in regard to psychedelics?

    I’ve taken lots of drugs, but I have never felt that being on a particular drug has helped me solve a scientific problem. The kinds of “insights” I got from whatever psychedelics I’ve ingested did not enhance my ability to analyze data, or build new hypotheses. If they had, I would expect that to constitute ‘material assistance’, as referred to by ARIDS.

    Clearly, psychedelics reveal that consciousness and chemicals are intimately related; somehow these neurotransmitter-like compounds (found throughout the plant and fungi kingdoms) are able to dramatically alter a human beings perception of reality. Perhaps there is no more relevant experiment in the emerging but still interdisciplinary field of consciousness studies (which includes philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists, among others) than the psychedelic “trip.”

    I find it interesting that you bring up psychedelics, because I found the use of these drugs to be a powerful demonstration of the viability of a materialistic view of consciousness. Psychedelics are chemicals, and as it turns out we know a lot about the composition and behavior of chemicals (especially relative to biological systems, which are much more complicated). We can say with a good degree of certainty what a given psychedelic is composed of, and we can measure the affinity with which it binds to various receptors in the brain. In other words, we know very well that psychedelics disrupt brain function through physical and material means, which we can characterize. The fact that such a disruption effects consciousness itself indicates to me that consciousness is dependent on physical and chemical processes like those being disrupted.

    BTW, if you want an excellent model of what a hallucination is, you should check out Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett.

  245. 245
    Hurin

    Damn. That should be “Matthew”. Apologies.

  246. 246
    Hurin

    Max

    According to materialism, none of us have, or can have, free will. At all. There can in fact be no such thing: all causes are caused. So if you believe yourself to be a materialist, and believe yourself to have free will, then you are not thinking things through to the end. Is there such a thing as a Paul Nelson who can ‘will’ his arm to flex?

    Nonsense. Dennett is a proponent of the idea that some of what is called free will is illusory, but that “we have all the free will worth having”. Additionally many philosophers have felt that free will is compatible with determinism.

  247. 247
    Kel

    His delusion that there is a God and Paul Nelson is no more or less delusional than your delusion that there is only a PZ Myers.

    Firstly, this is a tu quoque. Secondly, this is false equivalence – merely having a delusional belief doesn’t mean that delusional beliefs are of equal proportion. Thirdly, it’s you who think’s there’s an incompatibility between materialism and mind – not PZ Myers.

  248. 248
    Kel

    There always seems an implicit dualism that’s built into any discussion about materialism, so much so that to be a materialist means to deny any role for the mental. Leaving us “materialists” either denying that the mental exists (absurd) or that mental means epiphenomenalism (absurder!)

    Materialism doesn’t mean denying that the mental exists, just that the mental is a product of brain activity.

  249. 249
    strange gods before me ॐ

    maxdevlin,

    According to materialism, none of us have, or can have, free will. At all.

    That’s not even the half of it!

    Even with mind/body or spirit/body dualism, none of us can have free will. At all.

    Thomas W. Clark explains why:

    [I]magine that we do indeed have some sort of contra-causal free will, and see if it could improve on the deterministic situation we actually find ourselves in. I leave aside here the various sorts of indeterminacy that might be shown, eventually, to play a role in generating behavior, since these do not give us free will, they merely introduce randomness.

    Let us suppose then, that whatever my desires are at a given time, I am not bound to follow those desires. That is, my behavior isn’t completely the result of the competition of various motives and inclinations, but instead is at least partly a function of something independent of such influences. So, for instance, let us suppose I must decide between spending a thousand dollars on charity or on my own amusement. What would the role of this independent factor be in such a decision? Presumably, the story goes, one’s free will makes the decision about which desire should win out, the desire to help others or the desire to amuse oneself. But, on what grounds does this independent arbiter make its choice? Why would it choose one way and not another?

    If indeed the free will is uninfluenced by one’s circumstances, such as desires and motives, then it simply has no reason or capacity to act. Without an inclination pushing in one direction or another there can be no movement. Of course, one can (and usually does) consider the consequences of one’s actions, which has the effect of making one course or another seem more or less desirable. But this sort of rationality isn’t in the least separate from the influence of desire, rather it permits the more effective calculation of how a desire might be fulfilled, and of what might happen were it fulfilled. Nor is the choice to undertake such consideration “free,” in the sense of being uninfluenced, for if it were, the same problem would arise: why would the self choose to be rational – to consider consequences – unless there were some determining motive or desire to be rational?

    The “best” course – the decision taken – is that which wins out in the competition between motives as illuminated by rationality. If the self were truly free to choose between alternatives, uninfluenced by motives in some respect (whether such motives be altruistic or selfish) the choice would never get made. Likewise, if the self were truly free to choose between being rational or not, the operation of rationality would be haphazard and unreliable. As it stands, however, the self is nothing over and above the reliably coordinated system of desires and dispositions out of which decisions are generated. We don’t stand apart from, or direct, the rationally mediated competition of our motives. If we had some capacity to act independently of motives or of the consideration of consequences, that capacity would give us absolutely no power over circumstances. Why? Because that very independence renders such a capacity irrelevant to decision-making. In fact, it would immobilize us, not empower us.

    +++++

    So if you believe yourself to be a materialist, and believe yourself to have free will, then you are not thinking things through to the end. Is there such a thing as a Paul Nelson who can ‘will’ his arm to flex? Either you are imagining such an entity simply to explain (due to your own local ignorance) the actions of his body, or some sort of metaphysical reality beyond materialism must exist, and you are both just quibbling about its materially inaccessible qualities, right? His delusion that there is a God and Paul Nelson is no more or less delusional than your delusion that there is only a PZ Myers.

    But this is confused. The animal which calls itself Paul Nelson exists. It just isn’t the ultimate cause of its own actions. It is a proximate cause of its own actions.

    It is strange to posit that for an animal to be said to exist, it must be an ultimately uncaused cause. I have a hard time understanding why you make this particular error.

  250. 250
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Thirdly, it’s you who think’s there’s an incompatibility between materialism and mind – not PZ Myers. There always seems an implicit dualism that’s built into any discussion about materialism, so much so that to be a materialist means to deny any role for the mental.

    Ahhh. I suspect you’ve nailed it, Kel. That does seem to be an efficient and parsimonious explanation for Max’s error.

  251. 251
    Aratina Cage

    Materialism doesn’t mean denying that the mental exists, just that the mental is a product of brain activity. –Kel

    And that brain activity isn’t happening on just any old material, but on material that has been shaped through years if not decades of experience. It’s something that necessitates a great deal of time to build up and work normally since our brains aren’t copied; spiritualism cannot account for that aspect of it while materialism can. Yeah, I think there is a lot here in materialism that people who believe in spirits are missing.

  252. 252
    David Marjanović

    Matthew, evolution is not self-organization unless you use the former term in a very wide sense indeed.

    There are four ways how anything can happen:

    1) Random;
    2) Necessity, which includes events caused by the laws of physics, which in turn include all self-organization;
    3) Design;
    4) Evolution (descent with heritable modification) by mutation and selection.

    Is it not true that we know of matter only through experience,

    Sure…

    or at least that there never was such a thing as matter without experience?

    What?

    *blink*

    What???

    How does inorganic matter come to express “drives”? How does it come to “respond”? How does it come to “know”?

    One word: computer.

    Except for the “respond” part. For that I can offer mousetrap.

    Surely, either matter is a blind mechanical substance that just does what it does without thinking or feeling or willing, or there is more to matter than meets the eye, something proto-organic or pre-living, something capable of the later evolutionary advancements like those found in complex animals like us.

    A mind is what a brain does. It’s an activity, not a thing and not a property.

    DNA does not make copies of itself.

    RNA strands of certain sequences do, though.

    Stop making arguments from ignorance.

    Organisms, as defined by Kant, are beings who ends are internal to themselves, while mechanisms have ends external to themselves.

    *eyeroll* What a useless attempt to salvage the appearance of relevance of Aristotle’s silly four-ends doctrine. What for???

    Nothing that wasn’t made by an intelligent being has a causa finalis. “Mechanisms”, in the sense that scientists use (as opposed to as a synonym for “machines or parts thereof”), have no causa finalis, they just are; organisms consist of mechanisms and likewise lack a causa finalis except presumably in at least some cases of breeding/genetic engineering.

    I don’t have a causa finalis. My parents wanted a child, but not precisely me. :-)

    an atom doesn’t plan out its next move, it simply follows gravitational gradients or chemical tendencies.

    No. It follows gravity and electrostatic attraction & repulsion.

    Really – there are only five forces in the world.

    But it feels these gradients and tendencies, it suffers them;

    Evidence?

    I’m saying there is something it is like to be an iron atom undergoing oxidation.

    Electromagnetism again.

    For his theory to make sense, nature must be imaginatively anthropomorphized, otherwise his theory is a mere tautology: those species which survive today survive because they survived in the past.

    No, no. Those individuals that can deal with a particular environment better than others have more surviving fertile offspring, so the next generation will contain disproportionately many of those offspring.

    Natural selection is done by environmental conditions. Mutations create diversity, selection causes some constituents of that diversity to have more and others fewer fertile offspring.

    There is a poetry to science, especially to the messier science of biology. So long as we recognize the slippery nature of our metaphors, they can help us grasp the infinite complexity of the evolving universe. But let us not forget

    that, if “evolution” means “descent with heritable modification” as it does in biology, it’s quite an evidence-poor claim to speak of “the evolving universe”!

    that knowledge is built up of poetic metaphors just as much as it is based on plain facts!

    Well, duh – poetic metaphor is pretty much the only way to expand ape language that developed for telling other apes where the nearest fruit tree was. Consider the three meanings of the English word back: one is a metaphor for another, and that’s a metaphor for the third.

    Atoms are self-organizing wholes, just like galaxies.

    Yes, but I get the impression you regard self-organization as something mystical. So I think it’s better if I point out that atoms get their properties (shape and all) from electromagnetism and galaxies get theirs from gravity, electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force (which determines how supernovae work).

    Unless you are willing to say that there is some smallest thing that is only a part, and not itself a whole composed of even smaller parts ad infinitum, then you would seem to be in agreement with me.

    ~:-| Of course I’m willing to say that. There’s so far not the slightest reason to assume that the elementary particles of the Standard Model (quarks, electrons, photons, that kind of thing) are not elementary.

    Clearly there is more to matter than meets the eye, especially considering the recent “discoveries” of dark matter and dark energy (it seems we didn’t so much as discover these as invent placeholder concepts while admitting our ignorance).

    Dark matter was invented that way to explain why galaxies rotate like wheels instead of whirls and then, IIRC, used to explain some kind of mathematical discrepancy between the Big Bang theory and the observable amount of matter. But then people discovered how mass is distributed in the Bullet Cluster.

    What dark matter consists of (if you don’t count neutrinos)? Supersymmetry theory offers fairly good possibilities as side-effects of something entirely different.

    It may be more correct to say brain activity is the 3D material trace of a higher dimensional spiritual activity.

    You’re just making shit up.

    The problem of the emergence of consciousness is an order of magnitude more difficult than the problem of the emergence of wetness.

    …if only because wetness, including capillary action, is downright trivial to explain by electrostatic attraction. Why water molecules are polar is taught in highschool over here.

    He also argues rather convincingly that the concept of emergence cannot account for the evolutionary arrival of consciousness in an otherwise blind and mechanical universe. The evolutionary “emergence” of consciousness suggests the sudden existence of an entirely new realm never before seen or suspected in nature.

    *eyeroll* What is consciousness? Which organisms have it to which degrees?

    Given the available data, what is to prevent us from adopting the brain as receiver theory [sic]?

    1) Parsimony. You’re multiplying entities beyond necessity.
    2) Lack of a mechanism by which what exactly? could open and close ion channels in cell membranes.
    3) Comment 236.
    4) The experiment has been done: it’s possible to arrange nerve cells, in a lab, in such a way that they can together perform simple calculations just like an ordinary computer.

    The signals of other brains are also being received. The lower frequency signals of the Earth and the Sun seem to be rather dominant in our experience, foundational in fact; they provide the local fields responsible for the conditions necessary to generate our kind of consciousness.

    Then wouldn’t it be great if nerve cells could conduct electricity in both directions, like a radio antenna?

    Because, as I hope you know, nerve cells have a direction and can only conduct electricity in that direction.

    The light of the Sun is intimately related to the whole history of life on Earth, to what became physiologically and so perceptibly possible for it. Light shapes the eye, as Goethe realized. “The eye was made by the light, for the light,

    *eyeroll* Goethe, the poet who simply refused to accept Newton’s finding that white is a mixed color.

    All the stuff I just quoted has to be taken much more literally. Being sense organs for light, eyes have been selected for perceiving light, duh.

    so that the inner light may emerge to meet the outer light.”

    *burp*

    Prince of poets.

    According to materialism, none of us have, or can have, free will. At all. There can in fact be no such thing: all causes are caused.

    Not that it matters here, but it’s been clear since 1927 that by no means everything is caused. For instance, radioactive decay isn’t; it happens just because it can.

    Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Relation. Learn about it; then read up on the Casimir effect and Bell’s theorem.

  253. 253
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    The evolutionary “emergence” of consciousness suggests the sudden existence of an entirely new realm

    Huh?

    never before seen or suspected in nature.

    What could this mean?

  254. 254
    Ing

    Huh?

    That response seems to prop up a lot.

    I wonder why doofus here seems to be ignoring my repsones. I wrote out a very thought out explanation to why duelism is insufficient AND harmful

    According to materialism, none of us have, or can have, free will. At all. There can in fact be no such thing: all causes are caused. So if you believe yourself to be a materialist, and believe yourself to have free will, then you are not thinking things through to the end.

    Why do you presume any of us accept free will as defined by metaphysics? People are clearly constrained by their own natures and preferences. The alternative to such behavior is seen as madness.

  255. 255
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    “The evolutionary “emergence” of [the bacterial flagellum] suggests the sudden existence of an entirely new [structure]…”

    But now updated for the new decade!

  256. 256
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    I don’t have a causa finalis. My parents wanted a child, but not precisely me. :-)

    Speaking as a former Catholic… Some people don’t want a child yet but still have one, if they follow the Vatican’s guidelines on contraception (i.e., the temperatures method).

    If we allowed for the causa finalis, these children wouldn’t have a “cause” for existing.

  257. 257
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    *hands out grog, swill, and popcornz to those refuting MS*

  258. 258
    Aratina Cage

    Given the available data, what is to prevent us from adopting the brain as receiver theory?

    Not again! How does this solve anything? It doesn’t, Matthew. It only pushes it back a notch in the same way a creationist asserting that a deity created the universe begs the question of who or what created the creator deity. (Plus, the brain would also have to be a transmitter not merely a receiver else how could bodily interactions transform the remote consciousness?) It unnecessarily adds complexity to the problem (such as just what is being received and transmitted and how, and how come consciousness doesn’t continue while the brain is asleep, etc.), and gets us nowhere to understanding how it all works since there is zero evidence for the brain being a “receiver/transmitter”.

  259. 259
    kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith

    Given the available data, what is to prevent us from adopting the brain as receiver theory?

    Receiving what ?

    If we’re talking about a receiver, that is a meaty material receiver, it must then receive something which has real, material effects, since that’s what you think a brain reacts to.

    Things which have real material effects can be measured and are therefore ‘material’ themselves – matter and energy, particle and waves, are just two sides of the same coin, especially when talking about subatomic scales.

    Why is the idea that consciousness is external to the brain case and sent to you via waves – because the very word ‘receiver’ makes no sense if there is no wave involved – more satisfying ? Because waves are more mysterious, maybe ? That can be cured with a bit of physics.

    What exactly would send it ? Something which is itself conscious ? Does it need a carrier ?

    That hypothesis is just adding extra, and in fact nonsensical, questions about consciousness and explains exactly nothing. Unparsimonious, useless -> rejected.

  260. 260
    evilisgood

    I got yer meaty material receiver right here.

  261. 261
    Daniel Schealler

    @matthewsegall #173

    The theory of evolution by natural selection only works if we take his metaphorical transfer of the agency of the human selector to the natural selector seriously. For his theory to make sense, nature must be imaginatively anthropomorphized, otherwise his theory is a mere tautology: those species which survive today survive because they survived in the past.

    I’ve taken some time getting back to you because I wanted to really think about how to respond.

    Nearly two days later, I still don’t know what to say to this.

    This opinion you have on the relationship between artificial and natural selection… I find it to be flatly incorrect. It strikes my ear exactly as if you had claimed that 2 + 2 = 5.

    The most striking feature about the theory of evolution is the absence of any kind of agency involved. There’s no need whatsoever to anthropomorphize nature. I simply don’t comprehend how you can hold the position quoted above.

    Normally when two people flatly disagree in this way, there’s really only 4 patterns of response:

    1) Assume the other person is ignorant
    2) Assume the other person is stupid
    3) Assume the other person is being deceitful
    4) Consider that I might be the one who is mistaken

    I’ve gone through each of these.

    From the context of your comments here, I don’t think that you’re ignorant about the basic facts and shape of evolution. It’s tempting to get up on my soap box and start lecturing… But I think I would only be telling you things that you already know.

    Also, from the context of your comments here, I don’t think you’re stupid – so I don’t see the need to get snarky.

    I also have no reason to suspect that you’re being deceitful in some way.

    I’ve also reconsidered my understanding of the basic premises of evolutionary theory to check to see where my own understanding may be flawed… And while I admit that I may be shaky on some of the specific details of the biological processes involved, I’ve come back very confident of my basic understanding of heredity, mutation and natural selection leading to populations of organisms that change over time. The framework of the theory is simple in its elegance – I’m confident that my understanding is correct.

    Hence my dilemma. I don’t know how to respond to you. It’s exactly as if a rational, reasonable, non-stupid, informed peer came up to me and tried to tell me that up is down and black is white… It just makes no sense.

    And if we can’t agree on a principle as basic and central as the link between artificial and natural selection, which is the foundation of my earlier analogy, then there’s no way I can expect that we’ll reach any kind of consensus on my conclusion.

    I’m simply at a loss for how to respond to you.

  262. 262
    Kel

    There’s more than enough people weighing in now, so with the risk of just piling on…

    Given the available data, what is to prevent us from adopting the brain as receiver theory?

    Not again! How does this solve anything? It doesn’t, Matthew.

    I’m glad someone brought this up. Whether or not any current physicalist model is sufficient to explain consciousness, at least it’s something that’s trying to understand consciousness. Consciousness may exist outside the brain, it may be another kind of force entirely, but all we’re left with by saying it’s not the brain is that we don’t know what consciousness is.

    Of course, I could be looking at this the wrong way and I think Matthew’s point has something to do with taking a holistic approach. But it is interesting that there’s one group trying to understand consciousness in terms of something other than consciousness (and making great inroads, experiments in neurology are pulling up some very interesting results), while Matthew – like many Dualists I’ve talked to – is trying to enshrine consciousness as some sort of foundation on which all else sits. Where materialist arguments about consciousness can go wrong, the best that could be said for such foundational views of consciousness that they’re not even wrong.

  263. 263
    David Marjanović

    From the context of your comments here, I don’t think that you’re ignorant about the basic facts and shape of evolution.

    From the same evidence, he quite obviously was – like most people, even most people who are well educated in anything but biology. He failed in his attempt to describe natural selection, evidently not knowing that the environment is the selector*, and even thought evolution was a kind of self-organization.

    * And even this is a too anthropomorphic metaphor. Again, as Douglas Adams said, language is adapted to telling our fellow apes where the nearest fruit tree is, not to representing how the world works. Selection is something that inevitably happens, not something that someone (or something) does.

    Matthew – like many Dualists I’ve talked to – is trying to enshrine consciousness as some sort of foundation on which all else sits

    …and views it as a thing, a substance, or at least a property of matter – when by all evidence it’s an activity, something the brain does.

  264. 264
    Nick Gotts

    According to materialism, none of us have, or can have, free will. – matthewsegall

    This is of course, false: as Dennett shows in Freedom Evolves, materialism (and indeed, determinism) are completely compatible with free will in the only senses that actually hold up under scrutiny. If we look at the way we actually talk and think about the choices people make when we are not being “philosophical”, we do not regard them as free if they are made by people who, temporarily or permanently, lack certain normal capabilities: if they are infants, demented, sleepwalking, in the grip of psychotic delusions, etc., and hence do not regard those making them as (morally or legally) responsible for them. We regard people’s decisions as free in the absence of such conditions. This distinction in no way depends on the existence of a “soul” or “spirit”, so such notions are unnecessary for us to have a useful concept of free will. Moreover, even if this were not the case, postulating a soul or spirit that in some unexplained way makes our decisions, gets us nowhere. If the “spirit’s” decisions depend on any combination of determinism and randomness, then clearly they are in no way “freer” than decisions as seen within a naturalist framework. If they don’t, then how do they get made? Simply to say “They are free choices” is completely empty of useful content, since it has not been explained what the term “free” is supposed to mean in this context.

  265. 265
    Nick Gotts

    Is it not true that we know of matter only through experience, or at least that there never was such a thing as matter without experience? – matthewsegall

    The first part of this is a truism. The second (and WTF does the “at least” signify here?) is fuckwitted nonsense.

  266. 266
    Nick Gotts

    if I cannot think free of the appearance of all that conditions me, then the form of truth-finding known as science is impossible. – matthewsegall

    What an amazingly stupid piece of nonsense. When we are doing science, a large part of what “conditions” us consists of the results of our own and others’ empirical investigations. Of course, it’s obvious enough the matthewsegall never lets the results of his investigations be influenced by such considerations, but that’s why he spews such incontinent drivel every time he turns up here.

  267. 267
    Nick Gotts

    @264,

    Sorry, I misattributed a claim by maxdevlin to matthewsegall, though I’d be surprised if the latter would not endorse it. Maxdevlin, what you call “self-determination” is exactly what I mean by “free will”. No-one (and certainly not matthewsegall) has ever come up with any other coherent explication of the concept.

  268. 268
    Nick Gotts

    The problem of the emergence of consciousness is an order of magnitude more difficult than the problem of the emergence of wetness. – matthewsegall

    Of course it is: consciousness is much more complex property than wetness. But the comparison nonetheless blows your claims to smithereens, since they depend for plausibility on the notion that for x to have property P, constituents of x must also have property P.

  269. 269
    Ing

    Shorter Answer: Dualism rather than answering questions poses new questions by positing new mechanisms and phenomena which are not demonstrated, i.e. it introduces new assumptions.

    In science you stay within the data and posit from there. Don’t color outside the lines. Dualism goes further and starts coloring outside the page…on the good carpet

  270. 270
    Kel

    …and views it as a thing, a substance, or at least a property of matter – when by all evidence it’s an activity, something the brain does.

    One might have thought that life might have awakened him to the power of process, but he went and invoked vitalism on that too.

  271. 271
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I believe MS presupposes some type of deist god/universe consciousness. That has been his past blather.

  272. 272
    consciousness razor

    Dualism goes further and starts coloring outside the page…on the good carpet

    Dualism is why we can’t have nice things.

  273. 273
    matthewsegall

    I don’t have time to respond to everyone, but I would like to offer a few things.

    First, in regard to the receiver theory of the brain, the plausibility of the idea was made apparent to me by cognitive neuroscientist Michael Persinger’s research: http://ww3.tvo.org/video/164074/michael-persinger-no-more-secrets

    I do not invoke the idea of non-locally generated, or field consciousness because I am a dualist. I do not think mind is a substance, but a process. I’ve been heavily influenced by Alfred North Whitehead’s process metaphysics. From the perspective of his metaphysics, both mind and matter are aspects of the same self-organizing process responsible for forming atoms, stars, cells, and human beings.

    Following Whitehead, I don’t think of biological and cosmological evolution as entirely distinct processes. The same creativity that organizes the Milky Way and the solar system organizes life on earth. Darwin’s theory of natural selection is not a sufficient explanation of the diversity of species on earth, nor for the emergence of cellular life in the first place. I reject the reductionism of biologists like Dawkins and philosophers like Dennett and instead find the accounts of systems biologists like Stuart Kauffman, Francisco Varela, Brian Goodwin, Lynn Margulis, and Richard Lewontin far more adequate. Margulis, for example, has shown that symbiogenesis plays as large, if not a larger role in the origin of new species than does the classical model of natural selection. These are not mutual exclusive theories, of course.

    Whitehead’s metaphysics are an attempt to overcome the dichotomy between nature and history that any thoroughgoing evolutionary cosmology must. The emergence of atomic elements, for example, is no less a contingent historical event than the emergence of butterflies, tulips, or Mozart’s No. 25. The notion of ahistorical “laws” of physics no longer makes sense in an evolutionary cosmos. It would be better to call physical “constants” habits, since we have every reason to believe based on our knowledge of the history of the universe that its future structure will bring entirely transformed habits. Nothing is constant, in other words, but creativity.

    Brian Swimme is a contemporary mathematical cosmologist that has carried Whitehead’s perspective foward. Here is part 1 of a documentary he has made about the evolution of the universe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRykk_0ovI0&feature=related

    Also see his book about the evolution of the universe, written with Thomas Berry, “The Universe Story”: http://www.amazon.com/Universe-Story-Primordial-Era-Celebration/dp/0062508350

  274. 274
    consciousness razor

    matthewsegall sure is good at bullshitting. Is any of it supposed to be interesting or useful?

  275. 275
    Ing

    I do not invoke the idea of non-locally generated, or field consciousness because I am a dualist. I do not think mind is a substance, but a process. .

    *head desk*

    You are writing on a computer. yet you fail to realize how physical objects generate phenomena?

    The screen you’re looking it as a result of the physicality of the circuits and chips. The electrons are PHYSICAL. The mind is the same, it’s made of the physical chemicals.

    So it’s not that you believe the brain is a receiver, you just believe the mind is made by fucking magic and the brain mimics it so that it appears to be generating the mind. Like I said this is physics denial

    I’ve been heavily influenced by Alfred North Whitehead’s process metaphysics. From the perspective of his metaphysics, both mind and matter are aspects of the same self-organizing process responsible for forming atoms, stars, cells, and human beings

    Maybe you should refrain from thinking while under the influence.

  276. 276
    Kel

    Darwin’s theory of natural selection is not a sufficient explanation of the diversity of species on earth

    I await your Nobel Prize winning paper in Nature explaining why this is so…

  277. 277
    Kel

    Margulis, for example, has shown that symbiogenesis plays as large, if not a larger role in the origin of new species than does the classical model of natural selection.

    You do realise that Margulis idea doesn’t challenge natural selection at all, right? Endosymbiosis would count for nothing if it didn’t bestow a competitive advantage.

  278. 278
    Kel

    The irony being that while you reject Dennett’s reductionist approach and praise Margulis’, that Dennett will talk in nothing but praise for Margulis’ idea. “One of the most beautiful ideas I’ve ever encountered is Lynn Margulis’s idea about the birth of the eukaryotic cell through a transformation of what started out as a parasitic infestation of one cell by another. When she first proposed it, she was scoffed at, laughed at, and it’s delicious that this is now pretty well accepted as a major, major theoretical development. I think of her as one of the heroes of twentieth-century biology.” – Daniel Dennett

  279. 279
    Kel

    “I’m referring to the theory that the eukaryotic cell is a symbiotic union of primitive prokaryotic cells. This is one of the great achievements of twentieth-century evolutionary biology, and I greatly admire her for it.” – Richard Dawkins

  280. 280
    Kel

    I don’t have time to respond to everyone, but I would like to offer a few things.

    I’d offer one thing, it might be nice if you could stay on point for any length of time.

  281. 281
    kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith

    Margulis, for example, has shown that symbiogenesis plays as large, if not a larger role in the origin of new species than does the classical model of natural selection. These are not mutual exclusive theories, of course.

    What does endosymbiosis has to do with consciousness ?

    Are we about to hear about midichlorians ?

    The notion of ahistorical “laws” of physics no longer makes sense in an evolutionary cosmos. It would be better to call physical “constants” habits, since we have every reason to believe based on our knowledge of the history of the universe that its future structure will bring entirely transformed habits.

    I think you are largely blinded by the way humans perceive themselves, that is, in the ‘center’ of things, sitting up there piloting their bodies. Therefore, they imagine, there must be something piloting smaller things, telling them what to do, what the laws of physics are.

    The thing is that this reasoning goes nowhere. You’ll always have to find something piloting/controling, or ‘creating’ the thing that is creating. You know, turtles.

    The thing is, smaller things assemble themselves in a predictable way, following entirely material behaviors. They can do so in quite amazing and complex manners, without the intervention of any central force. A school of fish turns suddenly from one way to another not because the king of fish told them to, but because each fish reacts to the fish besides it in a predictable way. It’s not collectiveley intelligent. It’s a complex behavior that arrises from the iteractions of simple dumb things. Still, a naive human might deduce that something controls the whole – side effect of how our consciousness works.

    I do not invoke the idea of non-locally generated, or field consciousness because I am a dualist. I do not think mind is a substance, but a process.

    Then it makes no sense to talk about ‘receivers’.

    Receivers receive signals from sources. It implies that there’s two things to consciousness, receiver and source -> dualism.

  282. 282
    Kel

    It’s like Matthew Segall is arguing that people were right to see the GFC as punishment from above, because those reductionist approaches to economics misrepresent the self-organising whole that is the metaphysical implication stemming from the self-perpetuating and irreducible outcomes. That Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ has explanatory power only in its anthropomorphism, and using an algorithmic approach for a solution will fail because the market is inert with transactions on their own without the wider marketplace in place.

  283. 283
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Is any of it supposed to be interesting or useful?

    No, it just makes him feel goo(e)d.

  284. 284
    consciousness razor

    No, it just makes him feel goo(e)d.

    Yeah, it’s gooey alright.

    Ugly little spud, isn’t he?

  285. 285
    matthewsegall

    Kel,

    I’m glad to see Dennett and Dawkins are excited about her work on endosymbiosis (btw, Margulis passed away of a stroke only a few weeks ago). I hope they will eventually come around and acknowledge the significance of her work with Lovelock on Gaia theory, as well.

    Margulis’ own opinion was that symbiogenesis was a challenge to the worldview usually accompanying a Darwinian approach. Reading her own comments in the edge.org site I assume you got those quotations from would be helpful in this case: “The neo-Darwinist population-genetics tradition is reminiscent of phrenology, I think, and is a kind of science that can expect exactly the same fate. It will look ridiculous in retrospect, because it is ridiculous.”

    As for the global financial crisis, I think it is largely a result of economics having increasingly become considered a pure, natural science, such that technicians can run the economy without the slightest consideration for ethics or morality. Economics in Smith’s time was defined as the science of morality. How far we’ve come. Worse, in America and much of Europe, we’ve become so deeply wedded to capitalist ideology that no other models (Marxism, Georgism, steady-state, etc.) are taught in economics classes. Worst of all, economists don’t realize that our human market is entirely dependent upon Gaia’s non-human economy. As Margulis’ says, she’s a tough bitch, but I hope those in charge of our human markets start to realize that it’d only take a shrug of her shoulders to drive our surprisingly fragile industrial civilization the way of the dinosaurs.

    Some more reflections on this theme: http://footnotes2plato.com/2011/06/13/thinking-etho-ecology-with-stengers-and-whitehead/

    kemist,

    Self-organization goes all the way down, but this doesn’t mean there is a “self” separate from the organizing, controlling it as if from outside. Creativity seems inherent to material processes (that’s why there is so much order, and destruction, and re-ordering all around us). Matter organizes itself. Matter is not dead stuff, but living process. That is my claim. The evidence is all around us.

  286. 286
    Ing

    Mathew continues to ignore me. and spew his same nonsense.

    Worse, in America and much of Europe, we’ve become so deeply wedded to capitalist ideology that no other models (Marxism, Georgism, steady-state, etc.) are taught in economics classes.

    This is just flat out false

    I hope they will eventually come around and acknowledge the significance of her work with Lovelock on Gaia theory, as well.

    PCR was great therefore radioactive raccoon.

  287. 287
    Ing

    Creativity seems inherent to material processes (that’s why there is so much order, and destruction, and re-ordering all around us). Matter organizes itself. Matter is not dead stuff, but living process. That is my claim. The evidence is all around us.

    What?

  288. 288
    Kel

    Matthew, instead of talking to us as unreflective know-nothings that you must authoritatively lecture to, could you please assume some knowledge on our behalf and change your communication style to reflect that? People here are well-informed on many of the topics you cover – including people with relevant doctorates in fields you dismiss current paradigms as being inadequate.

    Stop talking down to us, it’s tiresome to try and converse with someone only here to lecture. I knew what Dennett and Dawkins thought of Margulis’ idea about evolution because they both mention it. If you would read Dawkins and Dennett on evolution, then you might have a better grasp of what they say about how the theory works. But, hey, don’t let a fair assessment of someone’s work get in the way of grand condemnations of reductionism…

    What reason should Dawkins and Dennett accept the Gaia Hypothesis? Empirical success? Undisputed mechanisms of action? Or something else? For that matter, why do you accept it? For scientific reasons? If so, what are those? Because, perhaps the reason Dawkins and Dennett reject it might have something to do with the problems they see with it. The case needs to be made for it, not that Lyn was right about endosymbiosis…

  289. 289
    consciousness razor

    What?

    Heh. In other words, I’d call him a kind of pantheist.

    The evidence is all around us.

    If all you can say is that the evidence is all around us, you can’t distinguish evidence from the lack of it. What would it look like if matter isn’t a living process? Would it lack organization? And before you answer that, where the fuck do you get off having some kind of grand theory of everything when you’re so pig-ignorant of basic science?

    And what’s your theory on brontosauruses?

  290. 290
    Ing

    Heh. In other words, I’d call him a kind of pantheist.

    From my POV it’s missing an “i”

  291. 291
    feralboy12

    I think what Matthew is going for here is some combination of chaos/complexity theory with the Gaia hypothesis. He’s right, as far as the idea that matter organizes itself in various ways that sometimes resemble each other despite involving radically different materials and forces; but we already knew that, right? When you add energy to matter (or subtract it), matter does stuff. It often does so in such a way as to move energy around and disperse it as heat.
    And the idea that deterministic systems with networked components, each obeying individual rules can give rise to second-order behavior not inherent in the rules or the components, is pretty cool and sorta seems like magic if you want to look at it that way. But really, it seems to be a property of physical networks of certain types, and why and how the emergent behavior would continue after the system that gave rise to it ceases to exist is beyond any logic. I don’t know how he starts where he does and ends up with “brain as receiver” and consciousness that survives death.

  292. 292
    Ing

    He’s also dead wrong on Gaia. It’s a failed or at least unsupported hypothesis

  293. 293
    kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith

    Matter is not dead stuff, but living process. That is my claim. The evidence is all around us.

    Then the word ‘life’ loses all meaning, just as ‘receiver’ means nothing without a transmitting source. Life means nothing if there is no dead or lifeless stuff. What would ‘daytime’ mean if the sun never set ?

    You might just as well call those things garblefarble and fgrlrlrlrl.

    Whether ‘creativity’ or ‘life’ or whatever is inside or outside matter doesn’t negate the fact that you’re actually considering them as essentially separate, and that you seem to believe that something ‘organizes’/pilots/control matter. Something other than matter itself makes matter behave a certain complex way – you’re still assuming a sort of command center to things, even if it’s diffuse and undefined.

  294. 294
    Kel

    This really bothered me:

    (btw, Margulis passed away of a stroke only a few weeks ago)

    I know this already, and the fact that you referenced the article where I got the quotes from should at the very least mean you can drop your pretence of lofty pronouncements for even a single fucking paragraph. Yet you can’t, it seems pathological with you.

    Get off your fucking high horse and try to have a real conversation about these issues. The people here are intelligent and generally well-read and have the capacity to talk through the issues that you are raising. Instead you lecture us over and over about just how horrible you think materialism is, how about you treat us like people and engage in conversation!

  295. 295
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Yawn, still not making any sense of MS. He seems to hate science, but is a jumble of conflicting ideas that have no support in reality. He can dream all he wants, but if the end product can’t explain reality any better than science, he is just wasting his (and our) time with such blather.

    If he wants to make philosophy more important, this is not the way to do it. All he is really doing is making it even more irrelevant with such flights of irrational and evidenceless thinking. For example,:

    He’s also dead wrong on Gaia. It’s a failed or at least unsupported hypothesis

    Big ideas like the failed Gaia hypothesis are attractive to him. He’s trying just as hard as his jumbled mind can do to show science is inadequate. But he keeps failing to do that due to the vague, jumbled, and incoherent ideas he presents. And he has nothing to replace science with that will get closer to reality.

    MS, trying spending more time reading science, and less time reading philosophy. It might help tighten up your loose thinking.

  296. 296
    Kel

    I need to rant a bit more about what Matthew has said…

    I think PZ succeeds in defeating only his own confused idea of “spirit.” Spirit is a concept necessary for any serious philosophical reflection upon the nature of self-reflexive consciousness.

    Imagine a parallel situation, if you will, of whether or not evil exists. It’s been criticised that the new atheists in their attempts to do away with God are dismissing that there can be real evil in this world. But what does it mean to say there is evil? If we take evil in its colloquial sense, then it most certainly does not exist. There’s no force of evil, there’s no ideal of evil – what is generally meant by evil is something that does not exist. Yet if we took evil as being particular negative behaviours by individuals, perhaps as Simon Baron Cohen did we could talk about evil as the absence of empathy, or perhaps it’s defined by the outcome of action such as what the Nazis did. But at what point, then, are we talking about the same thing? There might be some overlapping concerns, like both groups would happily say that the Nazis were evil – but the differences too show the trappings of such a word. Someone who uses evil in the human action sense is talking about a very different thing to evil being a force. Two people could talk about evil yet be talking about two very different things.

    In what sense can we talk about spirit without that same problem? If what you mention is spirit, are we talking about a real metaphysical construct as in something separate from body? Or is spirit just a label to give to the higher-level functions of our brain? If the latter, what’s lost by not talking about spirit? Can’t we just talk about consciousness instead? The whole thing feels like taking the Spinoza version of God and chiding atheists for denying God exists – what Spinoza described as God is indistinguishable from what atheists are saying, it’s just the atheists don’t use the label. If we talk about evil in terms of the Nazi atrocities, why not just talk about the atrocities without having to call it evil?

    And that’s the problem with spirit. If spirit is a force or something beyond brain activity, then it would be right to charge scientists with neglecting it if it existed. But if the spirit is just a fuzzy word for a certain subset of higher function of brain activity, then what are the scientists neglecting exactly? We’re left with a dilemma: either spirit is an extraordinary claim for which there needs extraordinary evidence (if one could prove something beyond the brain, Nobel Prizes on Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, and maybe even Peace would go to whomever could demonstrate it), or spirit is just a fuzzy word for something that’s already being agreed to.

    What we’re left with is a statement like “Spirit is a concept necessary for any serious philosophical reflection upon the nature of self-reflexive consciousness.” is a deepity. It sounds profound, but in the sense that it’s true it makes spirit a trivial concept. And worse, in the sense that it’s saying something revelatory it’s saying something extraordinary and unsubstantiated.

    Does it make sense to say that one emergent scale of wholes is causal (atoms, say), while all the others are derivative?

    The reason it can make sense at some parts and not others is because of the processes that guide them. Take the story of free oxygen in our atmosphere. The oxygen there allowed for organisms to use that oxygen as an energy source, but the reason the oxygen is there is that the oxygen is a by-product of bacteria. It may seem fortunate from our perspective that the bacteria gave off something that would allow ultimately for the exploitation by complex life, but the reason the bacteria released the oxygen has nothing to do with those creatures who eventually benefited from it.

    The reason we can talk about life being an emergent scale is because it’s in its organisation that it changes the game. Not a single atom in a lemur cares about the survival of the lemur, but the lemur has structures that work to perpetuate themselves. Finding water and watching out for eagles are behaviours that have meant better success in perpetuating their DNA. It’s not about the emergent whole in organisms, as we can see with behaviours that are apparently detrimental to the individual such as putting oneself into harm’s way when a predator approaches the colony. The behaviour makes sense in terms of the genes, not for the good of the group nor the individual. That the individual behaves a certain way and what effect is has on the group is found at the level of the gene. We can explain it in a reductionistic way, it makes sense in a reductionistic way, so what reason would there be to put an unaccounted for pattern onto it?

    It’s about process, not structure. What, for each complex structure, allows its causal arrow? For organisms it’s the evolutionary process. It’s why we can say that bacteria gave off oxygen as a by-product rather than as a way to bring on oxygen-breathing animals. Having a brain, too, changes things because it puts there a reaction and eventually predictive capability for the organisms bestowed with brains. Brains with greater capabilities have a greater effect. It creates a new causal capability, with desires, reasons, and predictions fitting into the causal story.

    By contrast, what can we say about some of these higher order structures as having a causal effect? Birds may individually expel less energy by flocking, but what couldn’t be described about the benefits of flocking from the physical elements of the system? What works about the Gaia hypothesis beyond the fuzzy metaphorical sense? In other words, what about the Gaia hypothesis gives it a causal power? What cannot be explained with bottom-up causal patterns? It’s easy to mouth off that Dawkins and Dennett are being reductionist (interesting that Dawkins talks about the power of genes – not atoms – as the unit of selection, and Dennett has spent much time writing about the power of minds as having a causal effect) and opine for the day they come around, but there are good reasons for the causal arrows being the way they are.

  297. 297
    matthewsegall

    Kel,

    I’d be glad to continue the conversation, but I must first apologize for not responding to every single comment directed at me in the last several days. I hope it is alright if I respond selectively like this, since otherwise I would not be able to respond at all, as I just don’t have the time! I imagine some here would be delighted if I didn’t respond at all; then again, I’m sure even the haters appreciate a bit of controversy to keep things interesting.

    That said, let’s get into the issues you’ve raised. The analogy between evil and spirit is helpful, I think. It is helpful because, as I utilize the word philosophically, “spirit” is meant to denote that in us which is capable of free thought. Spirit is that in us which thinks freely in both the ethical and the epistemological senses. I’ve argued in previous comments that the scientific attitude itself presupposes a free spirit capable of reflecting upon, and so coming to know the true nature of, material causes and effects. This is the epistemological sense of free thought. The ethical sense of free thought, and so free action, is where the analogy between spirit and evil is interesting. If the human being has no freedom/no spirit, then there is no sense talking about evil, or good for that matter. These moral concepts become mere superstitions invented by society to provide human life with some semblance of dignity, self-esteem, and psychological motivation, etc. On the other hand, perhaps our legal system and sense of morality are not merely superstitions eventually to be replaced by neuroscientific rehabilitation programs (where the state simply “fixes” broken brains that do bad things by giving them a dose of the proper chemical); perhaps they are validly based on the intuition experienced by most people of their own freedom. Now of course, freedom/spirit is not separate from the body. I am not a dualist in this respect. Spirit is conditioned by the body, just as the body is conditioned by spirit. They exist in a polar relationship as aspects of a dynamic process, rather than as separate substances that could not possibly relate at all (Descartes ran into this problem). So for example, sometimes my conscience tells me to do one thing, yet my bodily feelings tell me to do another. In this case, the body may win out, but my conscience doesn’t simply relinquish its sense of the Good; rather, it will feedback into my body by producing feelings of anxiety. Anxiety is perhaps the best negative proof of free will. Why would we feel guilty about poor choices if it were true that our actions are always already inevitable (or even just evitable, as Dennett might say–btw, I think his accounts of free will are not good enough to support the full blown freedom necessary for moral agency)?

    PZ makes fun of Paul Nelson for his proof of free will, but if we bracket scientific abstractions about the mechanistic nature of matter for a moment and focus on our firsthand, immediate experience of being human, his proof is rather irrefutable. Even renowned philosophers like John Searle have utilized this argument. The problem for the scientifically-minded, of course, is that we have no right to bracket scientific abstractions. You are probably annoyed that I’d even call them “abstractions,” since you think science deals with the really real. But from the phenomenological point of view, the really real is always going to be our experience of the world from the inside out. Science looks at the world from the outside in by bracketing our concrete interior experience of being experientially saturated souls and freely thinking spirits. What scientific basis is there, I ask, for bracketing our immediate experience of subjectivity, and all that this experience entails (freedom of thought, action, etc.)? There is no such basis, I would argue. There is perhaps a metaphysical basis for it, which is where materialism comes in. But speaking strictly scientifically, there is every reason to take seriously both our experience of interiority and our experience of exteriority. Science usually only deals with the deterministic mechanisms of the exterior world, but the aim of phenomenology is to develop a science of freedom and interiority. Hegel was after this in his “Phenomenology of Spirit.” We could restrict science to the study of exterior determinisms, but then we must not forget that this restriction is a methodological heuristic and not reflective of a metaphysical truth. Clearly, reality has both exterior and interior aspects, otherwise you and I would not be here thinking through these problems together. For a complete philosophical account of reality, we need to understand what might be going on beneath the material surfaces studied by physicists. The need for such understanding is why I find panexperientialism necessary (the doctrine that all material organization is experiential to some degree, with the intensity and consciousness of the experience increasing with the complexity of the organization). Without such a metaphysical background, experience and consciousness at the human level become very difficult, if not impossible, to explain (we are stuck with the so-called “hard” problem).

    I don’t think it is adequate to speak of spirit as a “higher” function of the brain. I do think that spirit must be related to what neuroscientsits are calling “downward causation,” but I think such neural activity is the measurable effect of a spiritual cause. The cause isn’t some ghost hovering above the brain: that would be to conceive of the spirit as some sort of gaseous material substance reaching in from outside. Perhaps “higher” isn’t entirely mistaken language, though, since to understand how consciousness is related to the brain it would seem necessary to think in more than the 3 dimensions of extended space/matter.

    The 4th dimension is sometimes thought of as time, which is where focusing on process rather than structure becomes important. The brain, and the whole organism, is a process unfolding in time. If one just took a snapshot of a living organism and tried to understand it in terms of space without time, none of what makes life interesting would be visible. You’d be left with only an anatomical account of the structure of organs. I’ve argued in the past that life cannot be understood in terms of mechanism, and my reasoning has much to do with this emphasis on process over structure. In much the same way as “spirit,” whatever “life” is, we cannot understand it in terms of extended 3 dimensional parts. Vitalists have long argued that an organism is more than its mechanical parts, but they tend to conceive of life as some sort of elan separate from the parts, moving them around from outside. I reject this way of conceiving of life. Instead, I think of life as “internal” to the matter out of which organisms appear to be made. I don’t mean “internal” like beneath the skin or inside the cells; I mean internal in the way that the 4th dimension is internal to or deeper than the 3rd. Life is precisely the process of materialization, that which organizes matter. Form and structure are the result, the effect, of this underlying causal process of organziation. So instead of a vitalist explanation relying on something outside and separate from matter, I say that matter itself, to the extent that it is self-organizing, is intrinsically alive.

    As for explaining life in terms of genetic survivability, lets up the ante a bit and talk about human altruism. Should we explain it away in the same way you explained it away in lemurs? Or might we trust our intuitions regarding the nature of our psychological life and say that selfless love is what underlies such behaviors?

    You point to the “causal arrow” of evolution as an explanation for complex structure, but as Darwin understood it, evolution was an explanation for speciation, not for living organization itself. Darwin writes at the end of “Origin”:

    “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

    He never meant to account for life itself, but for how life could have diversified given its original creation by some other means. I realize that some have since used his theoretical mechanism as a “universal acid” (I enjoy Dennett’s writing very much and have read many of his books). But I believe such attempts fail to grasp the autopoietic nature of living organization. Dennett himself admits he simply doesn’t understand what systems biologists are talking about when they reference the non-algorithmic nature of living organization (philosopher of biology Evan Thompson gives a critical account of Dennett’s approach here: http://books.google.com/books?id=OVGna4ZEpWwC&pg=PA160&lpg=PA160&dq=dennett+autopoiesis&source=bl&ots=4n6eq4a8rk&sig=_YjtRyGFJt8kh9wC0j7Vn2o8rIs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=2FMPT82lCLLTiAKDroipDQ&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=dennett%20autopoiesis&f=false).

  298. 298
    matthewsegall

    Professor of communcation Cory Anton and Professor of philosophy Chad Hansen have a relevant discussion about the relationship between matter and spirit in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qze5nM1M9K8

  299. 299
    Kel

    I hope it is alright if I respond selectively like this, since otherwise I would not be able to respond at all, as I just don’t have the time!

    Fair enough, I understand getting time to repond to even one person can be hard enough (depending on the person).

    The ethical sense of free thought, and so free action, is where the analogy between spirit and evil is interesting.

    The analogy was used purely to illustrate my point about redefinition and wasn’t meant to be seen on some deeper level.

    Spirit is conditioned by the body, just as the body is conditioned by spirit.

    How does this work?

    So for example, sometimes my conscience tells me to do one thing, yet my bodily feelings tell me to do another.

    How does this neglect the materialist story? How do you know it’s not all brain activity – that you have different modules, for example, fighting it out for executive control?

    Why would we feel guilty about poor choices if it were true that our actions are always already inevitable?

    Why wouldn’t we? The brain is a prediction machine that feeds back into itself, why wouldn’t the brain have introspective pathways for evaluation of action?

    (or even just evitable, as Dennett might say–btw, I think his accounts of free will are not good enough to support the full blown freedom necessary for moral agency)

    It’s getting way off topic to talk about Dennett’s attempt for compatibilism; save that for another time and place. But it is interesting that the topic does have this problem of communication. Presumably any materialist explanation is ultimately going to have to explain everything about consciousness – including the phenomenal – so either materialism is in such a bad way a priori, or maybe such introspective musings about what materialism can’t do should take the form of research questions instead of condemnations. It sounds like a good research program to understand how it is the mind’s unity can be so riddled with conflict. But to take from that introspection that libertarian free will is what’s really going on without knowing what’s going on behind the veil of conscious experience is premature given what is known. Even if the mind is wholly determined, there might still be conflict – it’s just that it couldn’t be any other way. In other words, what we sense as guilt may be perfectly compatible with a determined brain.

    (Not that the brain necessarily needs to be determined, or that free will is to be found in a non-determined brain, just to point out that what you’re saying is disproof doesn’t actually show that determinism

    PZ makes fun of Paul Nelson for his proof of free will, but if we bracket scientific abstractions about the mechanistic nature of matter for a moment and focus on our firsthand, immediate experience of being human, his proof is rather irrefutable.

    It’s irrefutable in the same sense as Samuel Johnson’s refutation of Bishop Berkeley’s idealism, or Cleanthes’ refutation of Philo’s scepticism. In other words, it doesn’t actually refute it at all. At that point, is the refutation showing the absurdity of the position or what the refuter perceives as the implication? As far as I’m aware, how many materialists would be refuted by the arguments they think of or their action in writing it? Do I have to think there’s something beyond brain activity going on to make sense of typing? If so, how can I test for it?

    But from the phenomenological point of view, the really real is always going to be our experience of the world from the inside out. Science looks at the world from the outside in by bracketing our concrete interior experience of being experientially saturated souls and freely thinking spirits. What scientific basis is there, I ask, for bracketing our immediate experience of subjectivity, and all that this experience entails (freedom of thought, action, etc.)?

    Firstly, there’s a huge range of medical observation about reduced or changed cognitive capacities that are associated with brain injury. For example, Patricia Churchland gives the case of a man who a had a brain tumor that was causing him to molest his step-daughter. Remove the tumor and the desires went away.

    Secondly, there’s a range of neuroscientific experiments showing the link between brain activity and conscious experience. For example, there’s a region of brain associated with theory of mind. It starts developing between the ages 3 and 4 and gradually develops into adulthood. Scramble that region with transcranial electromagnetic stimulation and it changes how people make moral judgements.

    Thirdly, we are biological organisms. If we’re trying to describe something over and above biology, then we need good reason for that.

    Fourthly, we know our origins and its through the evolutionary process. As Lewis Wolpert points out, there’s no emotion that doesn’t correspond to a behaviour. If we think about desires like hunger and thirst, the underlying reasons for those desires should really dissolve the problem of the intentional.

    For a complete philosophical account of reality, we need to understand what might be going on beneath the material surfaces studied by physicists.

    I think you have this backwards – we need to understand what might be going on beneath the conscious surfaces studied by introspection. We can’t through introspection see what’s behind conscious experience. Meanwhile scientists have been able to devise experiments that change our conscious experience through manipulation of the brain. Your assumption that there’s something under the material is just that, and given all that’s been discovered in various disciplines an assumption that goes against the current body of scientific knowledge. It may have turned out otherwise, but it’s pretty hard at this stage to look at the quanta for what appear to be neurological phenomena.

  300. 300
    Kel

    I don’t think it is adequate to speak of spirit as a “higher” function of the brain.

    I don’t speak of spirit at all, but if the word means to take it what you mean as in our capacities to think and reflect then that seems to me the implication of such language.

    So instead of a vitalist explanation relying on something outside and separate from matter, I say that matter itself, to the extent that it is self-organizing, is intrinsically alive.

    Again, you mention this notion of “self-organisation”. I want you to substantiate it! Again I think you’re using a trick of language here and taking life far away from its original meaning. Matter is not alive in anything like a tree is alive or a cow is alive, so to say that matter is alive is going to be profoundly misleading. I mean, it sounds good, but you’re taking a notion specific to biology and applying it in a very tenuous manner to something that at best shares a few scant similarities.

    But to be fair, let’s see how this plays out in terms of physical models. Matter is a very simple substance to play with, and physicists play with it all the time. What distinguishes what you’re saying about matter from what physicists are saying? If nothing, then it seems to call it alive is wrong. If you are saying something different, then what implications does it have for experiment? Again, you can’t metaphysic away any radical properties you bestow on matter because the properties of matter are what lead to experimental success or failure. You talk about these grand implications, but what experiments are you doing to show materialism is wrong (or inadequate)? The demarcation you are stressing is much more blurry than it seems you give it credit as being; it’s like you take an instrumentalist view of scientific inquiry.

    As for explaining life in terms of genetic survivability, lets up the ante a bit and talk about human altruism. Should we explain it away in the same way you explained it away in lemurs? Or might we trust our intuitions regarding the nature of our psychological life and say that selfless love is what underlies such behaviors?

    Two things…

    First, we know that genetic survivability as a model works. If it doesn’t work in terms of genetic survivability, then what’s going to happen over subsequent generations? So we have a very persuasive reason to take the view of genetic survivability – it’s vital to the process of life!

    Second, you’re taking an explanation and replacing it with a non-explanation. “Selfless love” (as you put it) is understandable in terms of its outcome in the same way that the desire for sex is. But what becomes of selfless love in your view? What explains it? How does it come about and how does it work?

    You point to the “causal arrow” of evolution as an explanation for complex structure, but as Darwin understood it, evolution was an explanation for speciation, not for living organization itself.

    It’s not just an explanation for “speciation”. I think you’re trying to play down the significance of what Darwin wrote, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and take it for you to mean the origin of life.

    He never meant to account for life itself, but for how life could have diversified given its original creation by some other means.

    So what? Does that take away the power of natural selection on the causal arrow? My point was about why there are some processes that don’t reduce to atoms, that wasn’t to say that they were the only processes. And the origin of life may well involve some form of mutation and selection, with structure being the initial thing that mattered and genetic information coming on the scene later.

    And what does it matter what Darwin meant anyway? His good idea has been put to use in engineering and computer science. As an abstract algorithm, natural selection works, as design solutions using such an algorithm has shown.

    But I believe such attempts fail to grasp the autopoietic nature of living organization.

    Why do you believe that? Have you made simulations? Have you made novel predictions that have the chance for falsification? Is the “autopoietic nature of living organisation” something that’s anything other than a bare assertion on your part? Because, again, it seems like your taking away an explanation and replacing it with a non-explanation. How does the “autopoietic nature of living organisation” work? What about matter makes it spontaneously arrange itself into a heart or a sharp tooth or into a stick-like appearance? The algorithmic nature of evolution can explain that, and rather elegantly too. What does your “autopoietic nature of living organisation” do for us in terms of prediction? If it doesn’t do anything, how can you say with any confidence that living organisation is autopoietic?

  301. 301
    Kel

    PZ wrote:

    But I’ve seen this phenomenon many times. Take some woo-inclined individual, put their brain to work on some incompletely understood process, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that they’ll come back to you utterly convinced that mundane physical events are ultimately confirming evidence for whatever metaphysical nonsense is poisonously wafting about in their heads

    How ominous…

  302. 302
    Kel

    Erratum:
    “How does this neglect the materialist story?”
    That should say negate, not neglect.

  303. 303
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Matthew, even with dualism you can’t get free will.

    Apes without souls could measure well enough to get back from the moon. Any limitations of evolved critters to do science: still quite adequate for my purposes. What exactly is it about your own soulless life that you find insufficient?

  304. 304
    Kel

    The power of algorithms as a design tool has been demonstrated ad nauseum. A chess playing computer is able to win at chess because of the algorithms, that an intelligence coded the algorithms doesn’t take away from that it’s the algorithms that do the heavy lifting.

    We know how algorithms work, which is why they make for good explanations. By contrast, how does the “autopoietic nature of living organization” work? As far as I can tell, all you’ve done is given ignorance a fancy label, and put nothing in to do any of the heavy lifting that algorithms provide. You haven’t given any means to account for the flow of information, only that it just does.

  305. 305
    matthewsegall

    Kel,

    The question is, are we trying to build models or are we trying to understand the nature of life? Science has been obsessed with model building for several centuries. This can be traced back to Descartes’ mechanistic paradigm. Feynman summed it up well when he said he can’t understand something unless he can build it. Incidentally, that’s why he said its impossible to “understand” quantum mechanics (because quantum phenomena are not mechanistic in the classical sense). Not that this mechanistic, engineer’s paradigm hasn’t revealed many things to science; indeed it has! Perhaps first among them is that the actual universe isn’t as mechanistic as our models! There is a great wealth of literature on autopoiesis. Start with Kant’s Critique of Judgment.

  306. 306
    Ing

    The question is, are we trying to build models or are we trying to understand the nature of life?

    Holy fuck you are an idiot.

  307. 307
    Ichthyic

    There is a great wealth of literature on autopoiesis.

    …that evidently you fail to comprehend well enough to be able to explain it here.

    interesting.

  308. 308
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    matthewsegall:

    There is a great wealth of literature on autopoiesis.

    There’s also a great wealth of literature on Jesus, the health benefits of enemas, vampires, and some boy at a British school of magic.

    If I wanted my solipsism to beg all it’s questions, I reckon I’d go straight to the narcissistic source. As it is, I’ll make use of all the functional concepts autopoiesis attempts to subsume, such as feedback within a system, that are applicable to the real world, and disregard the self-defined holistic mess that is its backbone.

    I’ll put my trust in things that reference the real world, thankyouverymuch.

  309. 309
    matthewsegall

    This is from 2007, but it is still a decent explication of the concept of autopoiesis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1FovsmMSsY

  310. 310
    Ing

    Matthew you’re not allowed to lecture to us until you take a basic class in what science is.

    Do not tug on superman’s cape.

  311. 311
    matthewsegall

    In short, autopoiesis is a description of the essence of life. It’s an attempt to make clear conceptually what it is that distinguishes an allopoietic (“other-produced”) machine from an autopoietic (“self-produced”) organism. This is a philosophical, and not an experimental, distinction. Plato didn’t need contemporary molecular and evolutionary biology to recognize (see Phaedrus 245e) that there is an essential difference between a body that moves itself from within and a body that is determined from without. Kick a dog, and its response will be determined internally and is largely unpredictable. It depends on the disposition of the dog whether it will bite you or run away, etc. Kick a rock and it is clear what will happen. Kant unpacked this distinction further in The Critique of Judgment, wherein he realized that the Newtonian/mathematical principles which worked so well on inorganic matter provided no insight into how living beings were organized. He famously claimed that one could never explain even a mere blade of grass via some mechanism. Why not? Because the coherence of mechanistic logic requires that causes clearly distinguished from effects in any given case. In the case of an organism, you’re dealing with a system in which the cause and the effect are reciprocal. Kant called this a self-organizing system. Maturana and Varela further refined this notion in the 60s by developing autopoiesis.

    Here is a great paper by Varela (et al.), published just before his death in 2001, about the implications of an autopoietic approach to biology. Basically, he sought to put purpose and interiority back into the science of life. http://fredspdfs.posterous.com/weber-and-varela-life-after-kant

  312. 312
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    or are we trying to understand the nature of life?

    Until you stop sounding like a person taking mind altering drugs, you have nothing to offer us except your idiocy and fallacious presuppositions. Learn some real science, and why it beats the fuckwitted mental masturbation you do 10 times out of 10 each and every day. Then, and only then, might you begin to understand your problem, and come the proper solution.

  313. 313
    Ichthyic

    Plato didn’t need contemporary molecular and evolutionary biology to recognize (see Phaedrus 245e) that there is an essential difference between a body that moves itself from within and a body that is determined from without.

    OTOH, NOT relying on scientific data to ground yourself does tend to lead to some rather erroneous logic and conclusions.

    Plato was wrong about the concept of an ideal form, for example.

    do you think if he had access to the information we have now, he would have postulated that to begin with?

    if so, then his philosophy is fun, but useless.

    If not, then how is his philosophy different than modelling?

  314. 314
    feralboy12

    The question is, are we trying to build models or are we trying to understand the nature of life?

    Matthew, the two are not mutually exclusive. Scientists create models that predict how real systems are going to behave, and when those predictions pan out, they keep the model. Sometimes, as in the case of quantum mechanics, those models are hard (not impossible) to understand because they are essentially mathematical and can only be verbalized as analogies. At some point, analogies fail.
    You’re doing the same thing with the “brain-as-receiver” idea you keep pushing. That’s a model, too, but your model has yet to make successful predictions. And it sounds like, while building your model, you’ve been sniffing too much of the glue. Be careful there.

  315. 315
    matthewsegall

    Ichthyic,

    It is all too easy to dismiss Plato’s philosophy of Ideas/Forms, but were he alive today to see the state of mathematical physics, I believe he would feel an even stronger conviction that he was on to something rather important.

    When an engineer models a system, they consider it from an external, 3rd person perspective. A philosophical school like phenomenology tries to consider systems from an internal, 1st or 2nd person perspective. A molecular biologist can describe the external anatomical workings of a fetus down to the last detail–but what does it feel like to be that fetus? This is an example of how philosophy asks questions that don’t matter to pure science, but that do matter for our ethical decisions as human beings.

  316. 316
    matthewsegall

    feralboy12,

    I agree, model building is indispensable. I am only trying to point out its limitations.

    The example of the brain-as-receiver model v. the brain-as-producer model makes these limitations clear. I do find the receiver model interesting, but I suggested it more to play devil’s advocate. I was trying to point out that both models are entirely consistant with current experimental data. The only reasons to choose the producer model over the receiver, or vice versa, are philosophical.

  317. 317
    Kel

    The question is, are we trying to build models or are we trying to understand the nature of life?

    Building models is trying to understand the nature of things. Just how do you think that we get technology like computers?

    Science has been obsessed with model building for several centuries.

    And it’s worked wonders, hence why we are sitting on computers instead of having this conversation telekinetically.

    There is a great wealth of literature on autopoiesis.

    Does this literature explain how it works? Can you explain how it works? We can explain how an algorithm works, we can show how an algorithm works. What can you show about autopoises?

    Come on, can’t you sketch a brief outline as to how autopoiesis does the explanatory heavy lifting that an algorithm does? Surely you’re able to at least give an overview to show it has merit. I am getting tired of reading you making lofty assertions that you don’t substantiate…

  318. 318
    Kel

    I am only trying to point out its limitations.

    This would be more effective if:
    a) you could demonstrate where those models fail. And
    b) you could show an approach with better empirical success.

    As far as I can tell, you don’t do either.

  319. 319
    Ing

    The example of the brain-as-receiver model v. the brain-as-producer model makes these limitations clear. I do find the receiver model interesting, but I suggested it more to play devil’s advocate. I was trying to point out that both models are entirely consistant with current experimental data. The only reasons to choose the producer model over the receiver, or vice versa, are philosophical.

    Bullshit. This was explained to you

  320. 320
    Kel

    The example of the brain-as-receiver model v. the brain-as-producer model makes these limitations clear. [...] The only reasons to choose the producer model over the receiver, or vice versa, are philosophical.

    Not entirely true, but there is some truth in that. brain-as-receiver model doesn’t have any explanatory power at all, while the brain-as-producer model seeks to explain mind in terms of brain. So it is a philosophical reason to choose one over the other – one makes an empirical explanation while the other doesn’t!

  321. 321
    Kel

    And, yes, it’s philosophical to choose an explanation over a non-explanation. Though brain as producer has led to many observations and experiments too, so scientifically it should be preferred over something that doesn’t make any novel predictions or have empirical scrutiny.

  322. 322
    Ichthyic

    I believe he would feel an even stronger conviction that he was on to something rather important.

    then his philosophy was ungrounded and useless, just like yours.

    thanks for the confirmation.

  323. 323
    Ichthyic

    …oh, and you’re completely clueless about the function of models in science as well.

    but keep going, since you like to hear yourself blather, I’m sure you’ll end up being pleased with yourself, no matter what anyone tries to tell you.

  324. 324
    Kel

    It is all too easy to dismiss Plato’s philosophy of Ideas/Forms, but were he alive today to see the state of mathematical physics, I believe he would feel an even stronger conviction that he was on to something rather important.

    Ignore for the fact that you can’t tell what Plato would think if he was alive today, this is nothing but trying to invoke Plato’s authority 2400 years after he was relevant.

    Make a real argument, damn it!

  325. 325
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Make a real argument, damn it!

    And any real argument will be based on reality found in science, and not flights of fancy also called mental masturbation. Reality, the reason science works and advances human knowledge, while your sophist philosophy doesn’t advance the knowledge of humankind due to lack of reality to its arguments and conclusions.

  326. 326
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Oh, and my #325 was aimed at MS, not Kel, who is doing an excellent job of showing MS what a fool he is. Sorry Kel, have some grog…

  327. 327
    matthewsegall

    Kel,

    I’ll paste a lengthier explanation of autopoiesis if you care to read it. Its an excerpt from chapter 5 of this book: http://www.amazon.com/Matter-Life-Towards-Integral-Economics/dp/0557429978:

    ” V. Autopoiesis: Teleology as Constitutive of Living Organization

    “…autopoiesis proposes an understanding of the radical transition to the existence of an individual, a relation of an organism with it-self, and the origin of ‘concern’ based on its ongoing self-produced identity.” –p. 116, Francisco J. Varela, et al., 2002

    The resurrection of Aristotelian teleology in modern biology is a matter of great controversy (p. 1, Colin et al., 1998). Some biologists, such as Richard Dawkins, deride any mention of it, as natural selection is deemed to have explained away any requirement of a purpose or aim behind the purely mechanical process of reproduction.[21] This view can be easily dispensed with, as Darwin’s theory concerned phylogenic change, having nothing to say whatsoever about the self-organization and goal-directed behavior of individual organisms.[22] Indeed, Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection is applicable only given an already self-organizing creature intentionally operating and reproducing within its environment.

    Other biologists have adopted a new term, “teleonomy,” to describe the as-if property of purposes evident in the behavior and organizational dynamics of life. Biologist Jacques Monod goes so far as to say that “it is indispensible to recognize that [teleonomy] is essential to the very definition of living beings” (p. 9, 1972). Here, he echoes Kant by pointing out that life cannot be understood without purposes, though also like Kant, he understands these purposes to be a projection of the human observer. This is as far as most biologists are willing to go, as they feel obliged to respect the epistemological dualism of the mechanistic paradigm. Hornborg points to the cognitive science of Varela and Humberto Maturana in an attempt to deconstruct this dualism, suggesting that their approach “…[downplays] the distinction between human intention and other forms of systemic directionality in living systems” (p. 179).

    Whitehead similarly notes that “no biological science has been able to express itself apart from phraseology [that] refers to ideals proper to the organism in question” (p. 84, 1978). Whitehead goes on to credit Aristotle with having impressed this fact on the science of biology, and relates how the overstressing of final causation during the Christian medieval period probably provoked the equally overstressed reliance on efficient causation in modern science.

    When Varela and Maturana originally developed the theory of autopoiesis, they were undoubtedly influenced by this scientific tendency to overstress efficient causes: “Living systems, as physical autopoietic machines, are purposeless systems” (p. 86, 1980). By machine, they did not intend to confuse organisms with artifacts, but meant that the system was determined by its structure and organization (p. 141, Thompson). Any purposes attributed to it were considered projections: regulative, as opposed to constitutive features.

    In one of the last essays he authored before his death, however, Varela proposed a revision of the understanding of purposes present in his earlier work with Maturana. He recognized that an autopoietic organization of the living implies the emergence of “an autonomous center of concern capable of providing an interior perspective” (p. 97, 2002). To understand why, it is necessary to explore in more detail the theory of autopoiesis:

    “…an autopoietic system—the minimal living organization—is one that continuously produces the components that specify it, while at the same time realizing it (the system) as a concrete unity in space and time, which makes the network of production of components possible” (p. 115, ibid.).

    To understand this rather abstract definition, let us ground it in the paradigm case from which it is drawn: the cell. A living cell is engaged in a continual process of self-production and repair, wherein each of its organelles participate in the production of one another, as well as in the production of the membrane defining them as a unity. Though an autopoietic system is also a self-organizing, dissipative structure,[23] it should not be reduced to these more general categories. What distinguishes an autopoietic system is its “self-produced identity,” or “instauration of a point of view” (p. 116, ibid.). An autopoietic entity is one that can be studied empirically (from the outside), but that also requires one to appreciate the horizon of experience brought forth by its continual self-production (from the inside). It is here that an immanent teleology finds its way back into biology, not as a regulative principle of our study of organisms (teleonomy), but as constitutive of life itself.

    “…self-production is already and inevitably a self-affirmation that shows the organism as involved in the fundamental purpose of maintaining its identity” (ibid.).

    Varela’s analysis of the experiential component of autopoiesis involves more than just recognizing the identity arising due to an organism’s internal circular dynamics, but also the surrounding Umwelt[24] emerging from its “sense-making” abilities, allowing it to “change the physiochemical world into an environment of significance and valance” (p. 147, Thompson). In this way, intentional movements directed toward ends become the very basis of life. Both formal (the identity, or idea, actualized in the movement of the organism and its organs) and final (end-directed behavior) causality are here implicated in the organization of the living.

    But can the Kantian dilemma be so easily resolved? Kant, as was discussed earlier (p. 19), did not understand how self-organization of the autopoietic variety could be possible naturalistically. In the last century, however, our understanding of the physiochemical make-up of organisms has increased significantly. We are far better equipped than Kant to cope with organic form (p. 140, Thompson; p. 101, Varela, 2002). But how, exactly, does an autopoietic account of life establish that the activity of an organism is intrinsically purposeful? How do we know that a teleological element is behind life when it could just as well be a projection of our own “…perspective on an otherwise completely neutral behavior” (p. 108, Varela, 2002)?

    “It is actually by experience of our teleology—our wish to exist further on as a subject, not our imputation of purposes on objects—that teleology becomes a real rather than an intellectual principle. Thus causality, as it is perceived by us as sentient beings, may be subsumed under the more general principle of life” (p. 110, ibid.).

    Varela here inverts the whole tradition of natural philosophy since at least Descartes by reminding us that, “before being scientists we are first living beings, and as such we have the evidence of our intrinsic teleology in us” (ibid.). The mechanistic paradigm could begin only after Descartes had firmly established a metaphysical rift between thinking and extended substances. The Kantian difficulty over whether to embed teleology in organisms themselves, or to recognize it as a heuristic principle of human judgment, can be traced back to this division between mind and matter.[25] Descartes decreed that the extended substance was purely mechanical, ruled by efficient causes alone. This included our own living bodies.

    Once it is understood that experience is rooted in bodily processes, and not in some invisible mental substance existing beyond it, attributing genuine interiority and teleology to other living bodies is simply a matter of generalizing our own embodiment. We need not, as Whitehead warns, “relapse into the tacit presupposition of the mind with its private ideas which are in fact qualities without intelligible connection with the entities represented” (p. 76, 1978).

    But how far can this generalization of our own experience be taken? Varela, while he grants that teleology is more than an artifact of the human mind, only re-establishes it as a necessary phenomenological fact about our own embodied experience. To firmly root teleology, and therefore formal and final causes, in organisms generally, Varela must establish an ontological principle, not merely a phenomenological description. It appears he is willing to do just that:

    “To speak of [autopoiesis] thus directly links the biological sphere with a teleological account of ontology. On a material, concrete level we can observe in the organism the flip side of mechanical causality, a final causality as the basic process of life itself—the establishment of an identity. But this happens not by revising physical laws for particle-interactions in special application to organisms, nor by imposing an extra-mechanical entelechy. It is rather the ‘subject-pole’ that is the organism in its autonomy, which changes linear causality by structuring matter in the process of self-realization to maintain itself as this very process” (p. 119, 2002). ”

    [21] See The Blind Watchmaker, 1986

    [22] As has already been discussed on p. 16.

    [23] A dissipative structure is an energetically open system that emerges in non-equilibrium conditions (ex: tornado, whirlpool, etc). The key difference between a dissipative structure and an autopoietic system is that the former usually does not produce a boundary that establishes it as a unity, nor does it produce the components on which it depends. Instead, it is more structurally dependent on its local environment and so lacks a degree of autonomy present in organisms.

    [24] This concept was first developed by Jakob von Uexküll (1940). Hornborg writes that “Each organism lives in its own subjective world (Umwelt) largely defined by its species-specific mode of perceiving its environment…The implication is that ecological interaction presupposes a plurality of subjective worlds…ecological relations are based on meaning; they are semiotic” (p. 183).

    [25] Descartes needn’t take all the blame: We could also point to Plato’s dualism of form and substance, to Aristotle’s subject-predicate logic, to Parmenides’ separation between being and non-being, or indeed to more the modern separation between culture and nature.

  328. 328
    Ichthyic

    autopoiesis proposes an understanding of the radical transition to the existence of an individual, a relation of an organism with it-self, and the origin of ‘concern’ based on its ongoing self-produced identity…

    …and you get a free set of steak knives!

    here’s a hint, Mathew:

    When you see that much undefined jargon in a single sentence, it’s a good bet there is nothing to it BUT jargon.

    It’s useless.

  329. 329
    Ichthyic

    …btw, this is also why 90% of Jung’s metaphysical expositions are also useless.

    took me from the age of 18-22 to reason that out.

    *embarassed*

  330. 330
    matthewsegall

    Kel,

    You ask me to explain how autopoiesis works. You seem to want some kind of mechanism that would account for the form of causality operative in such systems. I can offer no such mechanism, since the whole reason I invoke autopoiesis is to argue that living organisms cannot be explained mechanistically. Autopoiesis is a philosophical description of what living organization is which was devised in order to forestall the covert metaphysical reductionism of mechanistic materialism.

    As for your comment about the two brain models in question, all of the predictions made by the producer model would be made by the receiver model as well. The receiver model would make further predictions, like that some non-local contact between brains should be possible. Michael Persinger’s research has shown that this sort of contact can be experimentally demonstrated.

    I don’t know of any convincing explanations for how neurons could create experience ex nihilo, and until such an explanation exists, I see no reason to think the producer model is any more adequate than the receiver model.

  331. 331
    Ichthyic

    I can offer no such mechanism, since the whole reason I invoke autopoiesis is to argue that living organisms cannot be explained mechanistically.

    and yet we have explained them, without using “autopoiesis”.

    you’ve been conned into thinking this is not the case.

    In EXACTLY the same fashion that ID supporters are conned into thinking we need a designer to explain evolution and complex structures.

    you should be facepalming right now.

    seriously.

  332. 332
    matthewsegall

    Ichthyic,

    Yes, philosophy journals employ jargon, just like science journals. That is the cost of specialized knowledge.

  333. 333
    Ichthyic

    Yes, philosophy journals employ jargon, just like science journals.

    if you ever read a science journal, you’d see the difference, immediately.

    stop lying.

    hell, even PHILOSOPHY journals explain out of context jargon.

    that sentence I quoted was nothing BUT jargon.

    you’re a dishonest git. Kel shouldn’t be wasting his time with you, IMO.

  334. 334
    Ichthyic

    But I’ve seen this phenomenon many times. Take some woo-inclined individual, put their brain to work on some incompletely understood process, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that they’ll come back to you utterly convinced that mundane physical events are ultimately confirming evidence for whatever metaphysical nonsense is poisonously wafting about in their heads. And now we have a wonderful example of this kind of sloppy stupid bullshit right here on freethoughtblogs.

    times two.

  335. 335
    kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith

    It is all too easy to dismiss Plato’s philosophy of Ideas/Forms, but were he alive today to see the state of mathematical physics, I believe he would feel an even stronger conviction that he was on to something rather important.

    There’s a reason why it’s easy : Plato’s philosophy comes from a school of thought that didn’t value experimentation and real world application of knowledge. They prided themselves for it, disdained the experimentalists.

    Without experimentation, verification of predictions and applications, there soon comes a time where there isn’t any significant link between what you’re thinking and reality. Here’s a hint : in the search for truth, reality always gets the last word.

    And I second Ichthyic’s position on meaningless jargon.

    I suggest you try to emulate the great Feynman, the man who could explain quantum electrodynamics, a subject that is far from easy, in a way that can easily be understood by average high school graduates.

  336. 336
    Kel

    I really wonder what Matthew means when he says things like “I was trying to point out that both models are entirely consistant with current experimental data.” What do you mean by this? Can both models be used to make empirical predictions? Certainly the brain-as-producer model is able to, for example based on research associated with what region of the brain was associated with theory of mind, researchers were able to form the hypothesis that theory of mind was integral to moral decision making and by disrupting that area of the brain with electromagnetic stimulation were able to change how people viewed the role of intent in assigning blame or culpability. The difference between psychopaths and non-psychopaths in terms of moral decision making is that psychopaths were missing the emotional connection to whether or not something was right or wrong.

    The question is what does the brain-as-receiver have to say about any of that? If you’re going for “it doesn’t disprove that there’s something other than brain activity” then the consistency is not equal scientifically. Quite clearly brain-as-producer is more consistent with the evidence than brain-as-receiver because brain-as-producer has an explanatory capacity that brain-as-receiver does not. If you’re going down this line of argument, then it’s like saying that Creationism and evolution are both consistent with the evidence when quite clearly evolutionary theory has an explanatory capacity (see: discovery of Tiktaalik) while Creation does not.

    This is a familiar line of apologetics to all those who have ever looked into the Creation/evolution controversy, where Creationists will claim that both they and the evolutionists claim that they are consistent with the evidence and will abstract the discussion to a philosophical one. But it’s a non sequitur because they are both not scientifically-equivalent ideas. Evolution is consistent while making novel predictions and putting its neck out experimentally. Creation, in the sense that it’s consistent, is only through ad hoc rationalisations – inventing “just so” accounts after data comes to light. Abstracting it to philosophical considerations is giving a dishonest assessment of the role of models in observation.

    Lets say that current observation can’t distinguish between two different models, why should that be settled philosophically? Shouldn’t both models look to making further predictions about the world and see whether one is able to show itself superior experimentally? If we can’t distinguish between the points of view, then conceptual work should be done so as to make better predictions. If you don’t, then you’ve got an unsubstantiated assertion that you can at best say is not contradicted by current observation. But if you’ve got a model that does little in the way of make predictions, then that doesn’t count for much at all.

    What experiments has brain-as-receiver been able to inspire? What novel results has it been able to predict? What possible observations could falsify it? If you can’t show these, then that you say both are consistent with the scientific data counts for almost nothing. Because the brain-as-producer has observational success, experimental success, and has been used to construct experiments based on it. To say they are both consistent with the data is an exercise in equivocation, or perhaps I’m unaware of just how successful brain-as-receiver has been empirically. Either way, please enlighten me.

  337. 337
    Kel

    I can offer no such mechanism

    Then you don’t have an explanation, so could you please stop saying that you’re down with the science? Quite clearly you are not, as the science has a means of explanation through mechanism that you lack.

    since the whole reason I invoke autopoiesis is to argue that living organisms cannot be explained mechanistically.

    But you haven’t shown that it cannot be explained mechanistically. All you’ve done so far is to show you have the same misunderstanding of Natural Selection as Jerry Fodor does. Hardly a good reason to abandon 150 years of in-depth empirical inquiry…

  338. 338
    Kel

    I’ll paste a lengthier explanation of autopoiesis if you care to read it.

    I read it, and I noticed two things. Firstly, it didn’t say anywhere in there how it worked. That was the first thing I asked for. Secondly, you didn’t show that you understood how it worked. That was the second thing I asked for.

    It’s funny how even with a simple direct question you can’t answer it…

  339. 339
    Kel

    Kel shouldn’t be wasting his time with you, IMO.

    One day I’m going to get Matthew to say something substantial… ;)

  340. 340
    Kel

    As for your comment about the two brain models in question, all of the predictions made by the producer model would be made by the receiver model as well.

    Why would that be? Is it because on a broad application of the brain-as-receiver model that it’s indistinguishable from brain-as-producer? Or is it because brain-as-receiver doesn’t actually stick its neck out and make specific predictions?

    Let’s see how it comes, for example, with the experiment I highlighted above about moral decision making being altered. Theory of mind starts between the ages 3 and 4 and is associated with a particular region of the brain that starts developing at that time and doesn’t fully develop until adulthood. The brain-as-producer model would make sense of this as that area causing theory of mind, and from that comes the novel prediction that disrupting it would disrupt the capacity to think in terms of the intentions of others. Sure enough, this experiment has been done and it was found to change how we reason morally. It’s a novel prediction based on the model. So what does brain-as-receiver have to say about how that works? How does it come to make that same prediction too?

    What novel predictions that brain-as-receiver make? What observations would falsify it? That you can’t see how it works mechanistically doesn’t mean that it’s not mechanistically, your personal incredulity does not a science make.

  341. 341
    consciousness razor

    A molecular biologist can describe the external anatomical workings of a fetus down to the last detail–but what does it feel like to be that fetus?

    You realize molecular biologists today cannot describe everything right to the last detail, right? That’s why this question is pointless. If they could do that now and give us their results, and if you had anything more than this inane assertion that there must be something more, then we’d have something to work with. But they can’t and you don’t.

    So you have no reason to assume that there is something more than what molecular biologists could describe, if they did have every last detail. The only thing you do have is ignorant nonsense. There is a lot of it, I will grant you that. Not sure what you intend to do with it, though. I’ve never found it very useful.

    Autopoiesis is a philosophical description of what living organization is which was devised in order to forestall the covert metaphysical reductionism of mechanistic materialism.

    In other words, it’s an explanatory model, made of word salad. Its primary purpose is to confuse the modeler into thinking it has an explanatory function. Secondarily, it’s used as a bludgeon against militant mechanistic reductionist materialist monist atheistic scientism.

  342. 342
    Ichthyic

    but what does it feel like to be that fetus?

    ask a cognitive psych person instead of a molecular biologist.

    don’t ask a philosopher, as they can’t actually give you an answer.

    this, is what we have learned from you.

  343. 343
    Ichthyic

    it’s used as a bludgeon against militant mechanistic reductionist materialist monist atheistic scientism.

    LOL

  344. 344
    feralboy12

    Secondarily, it’s used as a bludgeon against militant mechanistic reductionist materialist monist atheistic scientism.

    And the irksome thing about Matthew is that he’s appropriating terms from chaos and complexity theory, and abusing them to prop up his “something else going on” claptrap. And one of the most basic things one should take away from studying chaos theory is that simple deterministic systems can produce very complex results, and behave in unpredictable, yet non-random ways. And frankly, the idea that the earth/sun system could run for billions of years and eventually produce replicating molecules, life, and brains with consciousness of self seems less like magic than ever. But no less cool.
    Matthew is like Deepak Chopra, misapplying a different branch of commonly misunderstood science.

    A molecular biologist can describe the external anatomical workings of a fetus down to the last detail–but what does it feel like to be that fetus?

    Mind-meld time!
    “My mind to your mind…”
    “Goo goo gah gah goo…”

  345. 345
    Ichthyic

    I think Mathew’s real problem is he confuses “emergent” properties, with “spiritual”.

    there is a point in that reductionism, in explaining the parts, does not explain the whole, if the whole has emergent properties.

    but then nothing stops us from using reductionism to find out which is the largest amalgam that gives us those properties, and studying THAT either.

    which, for reference, is why Physics and Mathematics are not the only two scientific disciplines.

    It’s why there are biochemists, molecular biologists, zoologists, ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and paleontologists.

    just because properties emerge at different scales and combinations, does not imply that we can’t explain them materialistically.

    there simply IS no other verifiable way TO explain anything.

    thus, all philosophy either must eventually be grounded in materialism, or become nothing more than flights of fancy, interesting as they may be.

  346. 346
    matthewsegall

    Ichthyic,

    Autopoietic biology is an attempt to step outside the “design” paradigm altogether. Both Behe and Dennett, for example, conceive of organisms as machines designed by an external agent. The only difference is that one calls this agent “Natural Selection” and the other calls it “God.” Their underlying logic is the same: organisms are “allopoietic,” or other-determined. What that Other is, whether wise and loving or dumb and mechanical, makes little difference. They share the paradigmatic assumption that organisms are mechanical and ultimately explainable by reduction to the laws of physics (whether randomly or divinely imposed). It is difficult to think of “Nature” in the abstract as intelligent or caring. Autopoietic biology, however, is based upon the intuition that individual organisms can feel and intelligently respond to their world, that they are self-determining in some sense–that is why we define them as living in the first place and why a whole scientific field exists to study something that seems wholly unlike the phenomena of physics or chemistry.

    Kemist,

    Plato’s philosophy is oriented primarily toward self-knowledge, rather than knowledge of natural phenomena. He thought it was hopeless to search for knowledge of nature so long as we remained utterly ignorant concerning the nature of our own selves. He focused instead on the process of knowing. He asked what the nature of the knower must be such that knowledge of reality is possible. We care less about such questions today, but this is really the inaugural gesture of philosophy. As Whitehead said, the history of European philosophy is basically just the footnotes to Plato. From Augustine, to Aquinas, to Kant, to Nietzsche, to Wittgenstein, etc., philosophy has been in pursuit of self-understanding. There’s been plenty of natural philosophy, too [See Plato's Timaeus or Aquinas' Principles of Natural Science]; but what distinguishes natural philosophy from natural science is that the former is always systematically related to the larger ethical, epistemological, and ontological background of human existence.

    Kel,

    The brain-as-producer model does accurately predict that certain neural modules are correlated with certain cognitive capacities. The brain-as-receiver model predicts the same thing (for the same reason that damaging a mirror distorts the image it reflects). What the available experimental data proves is that the physiology of the brain is related to the psychology of the mind. The nature of that relation remains in question, since you’ve still not offered me a theoretical explanation for how material interactions in the brain create mind. Do you know of any? I’d be glad if you offered a reference or a link I might explore. Granted, I still need to offer predictions based on the receiver model if I hope to compete with your producer model. If consciousness is some kind of field spread throughout space-time, we would expect to find a statistically significant rate of synchronicities –a concept developed by Carl Jung with the help of W. Pauli–, or a causal connections, between psychological experiences and supposedly extra-psychic events. An example of such research can be found in this book: http://books.google.com/books?id=OLaJ2HhW2zcC&pg=PT14&lpg=PT14&dq=cosmos+and+psyche&source=bl&ots=RMWcaTF7uZ&sig=G8WUCU3CEv2GAqoyl-uTRGZf1Z0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=TyAhT4DAC6LWiALsr_zSBw&ved=0CHIQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q&f=false

  347. 347
    Kel

    Autopoietic biology is an attempt to step outside the “design” paradigm altogether. Both Behe and Dennett, for example, conceive of organisms as machines designed by an external agent. The only difference is that one calls this agent “Natural Selection” and the other calls it “God.”

    A mathematically-sound, empirically-derived, demonstrated model is the same as saying God? Do you have any idea of the role of explanation in explaining things? Because it appears that in your attempts to sound profound you equivocate for what I can only assume is dramatic effect.

    Just who do you think the audience is here?

    The brain-as-producer model does accurately predict that certain neural modules are correlated with certain cognitive capacities. The brain-as-receiver model predicts the same thing (for the same reason that damaging a mirror distorts the image it reflects).

    But why should it be that way? You’re skipping around the explanation part of the model, why should the brain-as-receiver model work that way? It’s as though all you’re saying is “it just does”.

  348. 348
    Nick Gotts

    Both Behe and Dennett, for example, conceive of organisms as machines designed by an external agent. The only difference is that one calls this agent “Natural Selection” and the other calls it “God.” – matthewsegall

    What stupid tosh you do come out with. Natural selection is not an “agent” any more than gravity: it has no goals or intentions, and does not take cognisance of its results.

  349. 349
    Nick Gotts

    The brain-as-receiver model

    There is no such model. There is not the slightest hint of a suggestion of how the brain could possibly work as a receiver, or of what it could be receiving.

  350. 350
    Kel

    The nature of that relation remains in question, since you’ve still not offered me a theoretical explanation for how material interactions in the brain create mind.

    If I could answer that question, I wouldn’t be wasting time here. I don’t know, I don’t think anyone yet knows, but that mind is brain is something very well established by evidence. Why there’s phenomenology at all is something for neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers of mind to work on. That our cognitive capacities are intimately tied to brain matter, however, is not really up for dispute. Damage a certain part of the brain and the ability to transfer from short to midterm memory is lost. Damage another part of the brain and the capacity to go from midterm memory to long term memory is lost.

    Why there is any phenomenology at all, I do not know. But that my phenomenology relates to physiological and evolutionary needs points pretty clearly that the mind is a product of evolutionary processes. My desire for food or water isn’t there because there’s some mental state for hunger/thirst waiting out there in the aether, hunger/thirst are intimately tied to the cellular and ultimately evolutionary needs for survival. Indeed, the brain-as-producer model is self-contained in the process. Unanswered questions? Yes. Huge points of ignorance? Yes. But so what? This is why we pursue science, to try to overcome our ignorances. And that we don’t have certain answers for the most complex thing (that we know of) in the universe doesn’t mean we should abandon explanations that have empirical success and have explanatory power.

    Kin selection can be so powerful when it comes to explaining behaviour in other species, but when it comes to our mind we have to abandon it because it’s currently unsatisfying for the phenomenology of love? Oh, that’s right. Having mathematically-sound empirically-tested models is like saying “God did it” to you, while calling someone autopoietic isn’t…

  351. 351
    'Tis Himself

    Both Behe and Dennett, for example, conceive of organisms as machines designed by an external agent. The only difference is that one calls this agent “Natural Selection” and the other calls it “God.”

    As KG says, what stupid tosh.

    Behe claims that God (excuse me, “Intelligent Designer”) takes an active role in designing various aspects of life. Dennett sees natural selection as a purely mechanistic, unconscious process which determines which organisms are more likely to survive under certain circumstances.

  352. 352
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Both Behe and Dennett, for example, conceive of organisms as machines designed by an external agent. The only difference is that one calls this agent “Natural Selection” and the other calls it “God.

    What a fuckwitted idjit. There is no god, you haven’t proven one with solid and conclusive physical evidence, which is required even to consider the proposition in any sane philosophy, much less science. Which is why Behe fails. Natural selection is a mechanism, and is based on materialistic factors such as environment and fecundity. No magic needed by science, only by you.

    You appear to need magic or stupornatural in your unreasonable attempts to explain that which doesn’t need your illogical and non-reality based musings. The question you should answer first is why you require magic or stupornatural explanations? And if the answer is that there must be something more, then answer the question of why must there be something more? There doesn’t need to be anything more, except for you to bother others with your irrationality.

  353. 353
    Ing

    I really wonder what Matthew means when he says things like “I was trying to point out that both models are entirely consistant with current experimental data.”

    Annoying as I gave a fairly long post explaining why the experimental data seems to rule out the receiver model

    Short answer: Lack of available data.

    Longer answer: Saying we can’t disprove it doesn’t make something a viable alternative. It in fact automatically makes it less than something that can be demonstrated or doens’t work on a presumption that can’t be shown. Furthermore, it is a hypothesis that should be readily demonstratable with experimentation. That’s how science works, we think If this was so, what would it mean? If brains are recievers to outside signals…then if the brain is damaged the signal should remain, like a radio… So if hypothesis is true, we already know that the signal can interact with the physical world, thus it can be measured. Thus we should be able to build a faux receiver, like what Edison tried to build with his necrophone. We should be able to get at least a gauge needle moving when it picks up something, if not be able to pick up a mind entirely.

    Furthermore, nothing about the brain acts like a receiver for an outside signal (no mechanism for one) for two the alleged signal if it exists cannot reasonably be called the conscious mind. When a radio is broken and picks up it’s signal improperly it produces most often garbage noise. It does not produce a perfectly understandable and workable radio program that is different than that broadcasted on the signal. This is what we see with brain injury and other things. Personalities change. It isn’t just errant data, it still acts as a mind and still functions, it is just different. You can’t damage a radio when you’re picking up The Shadow and get The Blue Beetle, you get The Big Nothing. If the signal does exist, changing the brain changes the person, which means the signal itself is not the source of the mind . It would be like a heart beat; naturally necessary for functioning but clearly not the source of the person since you can remove it, stop it and replace it with a machine.

    In conclusion there is good ethical and philosophical reasons to reject this hypothesis without evidence. The idea of a philosophical zombie is very dangerous. If people believe that beings are not persons but merely mockpersons, despite showing all the characteristics of personhood, because they allegedly lack a unmeasurable vital essence abuse will be justified. This is what we saw with anti-semitism (yes including Hitler), the Jews weren’t people, they just acted like people but were metaphysically different. This is what justified the Christian slave trade to many, it was actual doctrine (though argument went back and forth) that blacks were human like beasts that lacked a soul and thus are free to be captured and domesticated like any other beast of burden (in accordance to God’s command). It causes people to disregard the body and slide into solipsism. You can damage the body because the soul is safe. Scalia has given talks justifying the death penalty even with it killing innocents because of this belief. In a more transhumanist/sci-fi view it may cause greater problems down the road if we ever find a non-human person (either synthetically made or naturally occurring). This is a belief that is unfounded and causes real harm.

    The mechanistic view of the mind no more degrades the artistic and poetic view of the mind, than does our knowledge of pigments and light waves degrade the visual arts. In fact it improves the picture. It’s the difference between acknowledging that Michelangelo was a great artist and claiming that Michelangelo was a vessel for God’s gift. The metaphysical and supernatural claim diminishes the real work and engineering that went into developing a mind that can display such a talent. There are serious negative implications to this view and we should not jump to it without confirming evidence.

    Teal Dear Version: Ignorance isn’t a good reason. We don’t see the evidence that should exist. The belief itself was, is and in the future will be harmful.

    Teal Dear version: There is a lack of evidence where we should expect evidence

    Furthermore, if the brain can be altered to change your personality, regardless of whether or not there’s a soul or not, that means the soul is not you. It’s a simple matter of identity, if the soul is part of the mechanism that makes you up than it is no more you than any single neuron because an alteration to the brain/soul connection changes the personality. Even with the receiver model you still get that the brain isn’t a receiver for the mind, you get that the brain and soul work together to create a mind. Since we have no soul found and the brain seems to be doing all the heavy lifting we can rule out the soul.

    Hell the fact that we can cut open the brain and do surgery on it, without taking the soul into account would be strong evidence that it is either false or irrelevant.

  354. 354
    Kel

    *sigh* Again, Matthew is playing very loose with definitions. How is natural selection anything like agency? To call it agency completely misrepresents how it works.

    Methinks Matthew can’t turn off the pseudoprofundity.

  355. 355
    Daniel Schealler

    @matthewsegall #311

    In short, autopoiesis is a description of the essence of life.

    Matthew, you’re starting to make more sense to me now.

    We can infer from the quote above that autopoesis is founded on the premise that life has an ‘essence’ that requires a description.

    I may be taking your quote out of context or oversimplifying, and I don’t want to straw-man your position. So I’ll just ask: Is this inference correct?

    If it is, then this explains why you and I were talking past each other earlier.

    Because I don’t think that there is any kind of metaphysical distinction between life and non-life. It’s all chemistry.

    Some of that chemistry is fancier and more interesting than the rest. So we have special words to refer to particular sets of phenomena. These categories only exist as part of our use of language as we attempt to understand the world.

    So to me, the distinction between ‘life’ and ‘non-life’ is entirely in our own minds. It’s about supplying a definition to the label ‘life’ that is meaningful and useful in our attempts to understand and explain the world. Therefore, the distinction between life and non-life is whatever is most useful for the context of the discussion taking place at the time – it’s not fixed. Like language itself, the distinction between ‘living’ and ‘non-living’ systems is only that of a temporary convention in a conversation between sentient minds.

    The map is not the territory.

    If autopoesis is founded on the notion that there is an essence to life that exists beyond our cultural classification of the universe then you need to do more work convincing us of that foundation.

    Because to me, it is a very controversial claim upon which to found a systematic description of a phenomenon.

    In other words: Autopoesis is about as coherent a notion to me as if I were to provide to you bountiful technical essays into new and interesting ways of how we can describe quixiofligibbets. All the technically savvy jargon in the world isn’t going to convince you to take me seriously until you accept that ‘quixiofligibbets’ are something in need of a description in the first place.

    From what I’ve seen so far, you haven’t yet provided such a demonstration/justification/argument/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. Which is a problem.

    If you’ve come here to talk about autopoesis, and you want us to take the concept seriously, then you’re going to have to do more work establishing the foundation upon which autopoesis rests.

    Doing this is a necessary (though insufficient) step on the road to being taken seriously by this audience.

  356. 356
    matthewsegall

    Daniel Schealler,

    Yes, autopoiesis is an attempt to describe the essence of life, to provide the science of life (biology) with a working definition of the object of its study. You suggest that no such distinction can be said to exist in nature itself, that it is merely a cultural contrivance. You go on to say that it is all chemistry. But what is chemistry, exactly? What distinguishes it from physics? And if you say chemistry is just fancy physics, what is physics? What is the essence of the physical? You see, whether we like it or not, science eventually has to talk about essences as though they were real. Rather than say that science is therefore cultural contrivance, I’d want to argue that nature is structured according to essences, each essence a necessary stage in the evolutionary series from matter, to life, to mind, and each stage studied by a particular discipline: physics and chemistry for matter, biology for life, psychology for mind, etc.

  357. 357
    Daniel Schealler

    @matthewsegall #356

    There we have it.

    The word ‘contrivance’ is your own – and it has negative connotations in this context. I prefer ‘convention’ – or perhaps in the case of science, which is also something that is done, I should actually say ‘conventions and practices’.

    I’m comfortable with the notion that science is a set of conventions and practices about how we can most reliably gain knowledge about the universe.

    Note that I don’t say science is ‘just’ a set of conventions – the word ‘just’ is another one that you introduced. You’ll notice I didn’t say life was ‘just’ chemistry – I said it was chemistry. The word ‘just’ in this context changes the meaning of the utterance significantly.

    No. Not ‘just’ a set of conventions.

    To the contrary. Science is an extremely powerful and demonstrably effective set of conventions and practices!

    If there is an ‘essence’ underlying science, it would have to be ‘nature is as nature does’. Tautological perhaps, but not viciously so… And a much smaller question to beg than that ‘life’ has an essence that must be understood.

    So yes. It appears we have incompatible assumptions about the metaphysical distinctions in play.

    You still have to work harder on justifying those assumptions if you want us to take you seriously.

  358. 358
    Kel

    You see, whether we like it or not, science eventually has to talk about essences as though they were real.

    Take the case of life. We know that life is nothing over and above chemistry structurally, what distinguishes life from non-life is not an essence but an arrangement of parts. There’s no essence to it that we don’t impose onto it. As Carl Sagan might have said, the beauty of the living thing is not the atoms that go into it but the way the atoms are put together.

    We distinguish life from non-life not because there’s any special essence to it but the processes that make living organisms are very different to the processes of the parts. Invoking essences seems to be limiting science by the way our minds easily think, rather than by any constraint the universes imposes!

Comments have been disabled.