Tudge said the thing which is not

One more thing about Colin Tudge, because it makes me angry.

He wrote in that non-review “review” (and I quoted him yesterday):

Thus he tells us that “reality is everything that exists” – and “exists”, he makes clear, means whatever we can see or stub our toes on, albeit with the aid of telescopes and seismographs. Everything else – including things we might think exist, like jealousy and love – derive from that material base and are to a large extent illusory. This, he implies, is what emerges from science, and science is true.

Dawkins pointed out what he actually wrote in the book Tudge was “reviewing”:

Does this mean that reality only contains things that can be detected, directly or indirectly, by our senses and by the methods of science? What about things like jealousy and joy, happiness and love? Are these not also real?

Yes, they are real. But they depend for their existence on brains: human brains, certainly, and probably the brains of other advanced animal species, such as chimpanzees, dogs and whales, too. Rocks don’t feel joy or jealousy, and mountains do not love. These emotions are intensely real to those who experience them, but they didn’t exist before brains did. It is possible that emotions like these – and perhaps other emotions that we can’t begin to dream of – could exist on other planets, but only if those planets also contain brains – or something equivalent to brains: for who knows what weird thinking organs or feeling machines may lurk elsewhere in the universe[.]

Look at that. Read the two passages. Compare them. Tudge said that Dawkins said that love and jealousy don’t exist, when Dawkins in fact said the exact opposite of that. Note the first sentence of RD’s second paragraph –

…they depend for their existence on brains…

Meaning they exist.

Note the third sentence of RD’s second paragraph –

These emotions are intensely real to those who experience them, but they didn’t exist before brains did.

Meaning, to those with functioning brains, that they do exist now.  

I suspected yesterday that Tudge was playing games – I suspected that he used the word “exists” instead of “real” on purpose, and that the purpose was to get around the fact that it’s too absurd to say Dawkins says love isn’t real. I suspected it would be too quick and easy to prove Tudge wrong if he used that word, while “exists” would make things easier for him. I was wrong only in that Richard had explicitly said that they exist as well as that they’re real.

It’s shocking, I think, this outright mendacity. It should be put a stop to.


  1. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    A Liar for Jesus™ would write an actual untruth? I am aghast! Surely such things don’t happen in the real world, where truth and honesty are the ne plus ultra of the Jesusites.

  2. John Morales says


    It’s shocking, I think, this outright mendacity. It should be put a stop to.

    Ooh, nice.

    (Sneaky, but)

    Boy, would I love to see Mr. Tudge engage you!

  3. Egbert says

    I actually think it is problematic from a scientific perspective to state that emotions or consciousness are real. It seems more a metaphysical statement than epistemological. I think it may go beyond the bounds of what science or reason can state about consciousness–so far anyway.

  4. John Morales says

    Egbert, it’s not problematic if you consider the semantics, not just the labels.

    And yes, it’s metaphysical; ontological, to be specific.

    (cf. categories (of being))

  5. Robert B. says

    Why is that, Egbert? What exactly do you mean by “real” here? I’m sure that emotions work differently from what most people think when they hear the word; probably, they work differently from what anyone yet thinks or knows about them, because there’s a lot of neuropsych left to discover.

    But I don’t think any reasonable person would argue that when we talk about emotions or consciousness, we’re talking about things that don’t exist or happen. Those words are pointing at something. Yes, we will eventually explain the causes and brain events that go on behind the scenes when we know who we are or when we feel joy or sadness. But we do know who we are, and we do feel joy and sadness, and we don’t actually need the explanation to have that existential knowledge.

    Maybe I’m just not understanding your argument, because it sounds a little silly – that is, trivially wrong. It’s easy to know that emotions and consciousness exist – it requires metaphysics only in the sense that holding up one finger requires mathematics.

  6. Cuttlefish says

    Egbert, a sunrise is illusory–would you say they do not exist? That which we call earth-rotation, by any other name and all that…

    Emotions and consciousness are quite real. They are definable at the level of a behaving individual, interacting with a (physical and social) environment. It is true that they are not easily definable by physics, chemistry, or biology–so what? They are quite consistent with these sciences, as they must be. Don’t allow your own (we all have them) blinkers lead you to think that no one else knows either.

  7. says

    “I suspected yesterday that Tudge was playing games …”

    I think “games” musn’t be interpreted in any sense of “playing”. I’m convinced that Tudge sees this as a very serious matter.

    Tudge has a personal worldview in which science has its limited place, and “religion” (used in a sense of his own) is all-embracing. This is almost diametrically opposed to what he sees as Dawkins’ position.

    Tudge repeatedly says in his writings that “science is the art of the possible”, but fails to accept that what is possible expands decade by decade, and is encroaching on the original scope of religion. Science provides better explanations for the nature of the universe, it has started to check whether prayer actually works, it looks into the brains of people having religious experiences, and (whether or not you agree with Sam Harris) it is at least examining whether it can encroach on morality.

    Tudge thinks (in those writings) that religion provides essential narratives, and must surely hate the way Dawkins’ relegates religious myths to the equivalent of ancient fire-side yarns. This book risks undermining Tudge’s propagation of his worldview.

    Tudge doesn’t appear to have a particular religion in the normal sense (but I could be wrong). He accepts evolution, although I suspect with his own variant of intelligent design. But his opposition to this book must be as important to him as a creationist’s opposition to a book about evolution would be.

  8. Fin says

    Warning: Hard core materialism ahead.

    I’ve been reading and writing on this problem for the past little while, and I’ve personally come to the conclusion that many of the illusions related to human consciousness, up to and including consciousness itself, are actually pure illusions. Pure illusions being distinguished from, say illusions of perception or perspective, which deal with something in the world perceived, or the position from which we perceive (such as the sunset or sunrise example). A pure illusion is that which contains no perceptual data; for example, linguistic tricks are pure illusions (they work because of the logic by which language works). Jokes, particularly puns, often work by building up an illusory façade which the punch line destroys. Such as the meta-joke example, which plays on our expectations of the logic of jokes: “An Irish man, an English woman and a Scottish man walk into a bar, and the barman goes ‘What is this, some kind of joke?'”

    To say something like “love” exists, because there is a subjective experience of “love”, is not discernible from arguments that free will exists, because there is a subjective experience we can point to. Subsequently, I experience consciousness, subjectively, but there’s nothing I can objectively point to that suggests consciousness is actually there. It is somewhat circular, to argue that subjective experience of any of these things, which are not understandable outside of the subjective, is proof of their existence.

    That said, there is firm, material reasons why these subjective illusions occur (including the illusion of subjectivity, the darkness behind the eyelids), so it makes sense to play along with them. And besides, just because something is absolutely false and untrue, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it, like, for example, fiction.

    Oh shit, did I just give ammunition to the “Atheists are all nihilist materialists”? Oh well.

  9. says

    Fin @ 9:

    “That said, there is firm, material reasons why these subjective illusions occur (including the illusion of subjectivity, the darkness behind the eyelids), so it makes sense to play along with them.”

    More than “play along with them”!

    There are still questions of “how” and “why” we experience these, and science can help there. At the very least, science may help us ask better questions about them.

  10. Robert B. says

    @ Fin:

    Here’s the thing with free will, though. Free will is a problematic concept to start with. Or rather, it was fine for Descartes but once you debunk dualism, you’re left with two options: either human actions are physically determined, or they are random. There is no way to get “outside the bottle” of reality to have a will that is free of physical causation. Human actions don’t behave very random, so they’re determined. And people want free will to mean something outside the bottle – something with some sort of primal, intrinsic independence somehow, because that view of free will feels good. And that’s something that just doesn’t exist.

    But what a lot of people fail to consider is that when people talk about free will, they are talking about something. There is some sense in which a person determines their own actions, that we can observe not just by introspection but by objective observation of each other. People’s ideas about free will are often very wrong – about its freedom from bias, about its freedom from environmental and chemical influence, about the whole bizarre unjustifiable dualism thing. But when people talk about free will they are talking about something that actually exists even if they can’t define it truthfully or consistently. There’s something there. So when you say “free will doesn’t exist” they go WHAAARGARBLE because it actually does, and it obviously does, and a thousand-year history of misdefining it does not make it magically vanish.

    I can demonstrate your consciousness objectively. I can devise a scientific test to prove that your cognition takes its own existence into account, and controls and directs its own function. I can learn about your love objectively, by observing your behavior toward your loved ones, and your brain state when near your loved ones, and demonstrating a statistical match to other people around their mothers and new husbands and sons and so on, while also demonstrating a statistical difference from more usual patterns of behavior and neuron activity. There is something there. The non-existence of mysterious psychic love-stuff does not make those phenomena illusory or false.

  11. Egbert says

    People seem to think I’m making an argument or a claim, I’m not. I am only being sceptical about consciousness, It might be real or may not be. How does the claim “consciousness is real” get supported?

    Being sceptical is not the same as being a hard materialist like Fin. It seems equally unsupported to claim that consciousness is an illusion.

    I think it’s best to suspend judgment altogether, rather than make any such claims about consciousness. That seems to me the correct attitude to take from both a rational and scientific perspective.

    I regard ‘free-will’ as a concept and not a thing, and belongs in the abstract realm of other concepts like numbers. Concepts are not real, they’re symbols to describe things in the world.

  12. Fin says

    “I can demonstrate your consciousness objectively.”

    There is a whole collection of inherent problems with this proposition.

    Firstly, you have the problem of transcendence. How can you effectively move knowledge from one realm to another? There are other kinds of dualisms beyond substance dualism, and what I am proposing is a divide between the ontological and the subjective (or phenomenological, in philosophy-wank speech) – this is an epistemological dualism. Your proposition suggests that it is possible to derive ontological truths from subjective truths (or vice versa). You do at least provide a mechanism for this to happen (the scientific test), but this is mechanism is itself contained within the phenomenological realm (and as such, just moves the transcendental problem one rung back). This is not to devalue science, but just to point out that it suffers from the same level of uncertainty as any other approach which relies on the subjective experience. Of course, you could argue that there is no divide between the subjective and objective, logically, but this entails its own contradictions which, I think, make it untenable to hold (though some do indeed argue this).

    Secondly, and this is related to the second sentence, where you state that “your cognition takes its own existence into account, and controls and directs its own function.” There is a wealth of conflations here, but briefly, you would be hard pressed to show cognition, empirically, and by this I mean explicitly “thought”. If you asked me to solve a mathematical problem while I was connected to a neuroimaging scanner, you would more than likely see activity, but there is no deductively sound way of proving that I am even thinking about the math problem at all. I could be attending to something utterly different, while subconsciously (to be clear, while not being aware of it) working the problem out, and you would have no way of proving whether or not I am even aware of solving the problem.

    And this gets to the nub, or crux, of the matter, we all have an understanding of what consciousness is, but this understanding is absolutely derived from our own subjective experience, and utterly disconnected from what we know about our brain empirically. After all, we can know, for illustration, that when we are in pain, area X of our brain will fire up – but when we are actually in pain, we have no subjective experience of area X at all. Or, to use your example of love; understanding the behavioural patterns, and physiological changes, and so on, associated with the concept of “love” does not equate to showing that “love” exists; because love is, first and foremost, a subjective experience – when we think of love, or hate, or jealousy etc., we would rarely describe it in terms of behaviour patterns, we describe it in terms of internal subjective states: “Love is your heart skipping a beat when s/he enters the room.” and so on. IF the subjective is suspect, as because it is completely disconnected from the empirical AND the ontological, then any concepts contained within that, including consciousness and all its associated concepts, are suspect as well.

    Now, the substance dualist would be able to account for this problem handily, but positing the subjective realm as a very real realm, with its own substance, from which the thing “love” is built, and so on. The materialist has a lot of problems, which has lead to a slew of rather desperate attempts to justify the existence of consciousness within a materialist conception, I personally feel it’s much more sound to eliminate such ideas altogether, because one, we no longer have to deal with problems like the distinction between phenomenological and ontological, and the associated problems of transcendence, and two, it makes explicating our mental existence completely an empirical exercise for neurologists and psychologists (meaning the philosophers can shut up about it and move on to other things).

  13. Robert B. says

    You mean you’re being doubtful. Skepticism, despite popular usage, is not a state of mind but a process, which involves using evidence to actively seek to make a supported judgement among all the possibilities. If you “suspend judgement altogether” you are abdicating your skepticism and, in effect, deciding to live with whatever half-formed opinion you had before you started, because it turns out that “suspending judgement altogether” isn’t something that human brains are very good at.

    And you’re confusing the map with the territory. There is a concept “free will,” which is an idea we use in thinking. Being real or not real isn’t relevant for a concept, except in the sense that any concept we can hold in our minds is a “real” concept. And then there’s the actual phenomenon of free will, which is a type of thing that either does or does not actually happen in actual brains. If that phenomenon does happen, then free will is real, and if it doesn’t then it’s not.

    And I already proposed a way to support (or, if I’m wrong on the facts, refute) the existence of consciousness, in the third paragraph of my last post. (It may have gone up while you were writing?) Or rather, a definition of consciousness you could design an experiment for. It wouldn’t even take brain surgery.

  14. Robert B. says

    @ Fin: Er. It’s been a little while, so let me make sure I have my definitions right. By ontology we mean the question of whether things really exist, yes? And by phenomenology we mean the things we observe.

    If I have those definitions right, I don’t see how we would ever approach an ontological question except by phenomenology. If you’re asking for an absolute certainty, as some of your language seems to suggest, then I hold that this doesn’t exist with regards to any human knowledge. The best we can do is estimate how likely a possible belief is to be true, and the probability is always greater than 0 and less than 1. Even in math, the concept of numbers and quantity is based on a pattern of observations we make of the real world, (i.e., by counting), and these observations could in principle have been wrong every time for our whole lives. I am astronomically certain, let’s say 1-10^-100 certain, that math works, but it doesn’t occupy a different kind of knowledge or certainty, only a different amount.

    Blue was once considered a purely subjective phenomenon, something we could only describe as a personal experience, but now we can account for it both as a frequency of electromagnetic wave, and as an excitation of certain cells in the eye. So the fact that consciousness, emotions, and other mental phenomena are largely understood through how they feel from the inside, does not mean there won’t later be a more useful reductive account of them, that an outside observer could use to verify whether love, for example, is or is not going on.

    And I think it’s okay to say that a scientifically useful definition will be different in most details from “what we think” the word means, especially if the “we” are laymen and the discipline is still young. That’s been true of just about the entire history of science – blood, stars, magnets, and diseases are all radically different in fact from what most people thought they were for most of human history. I don’t think it’s “desperate” to update a pre-scientific definition to one we can accord with fact. And it’s never been very difficult to ensure that a scientist pointing at the stars was pointing at the same phenomena as was a layman who thought they were a fixed sphere of lanterns at the outer surface of the universe.

  15. John Morales says


    Skepticism, despite popular usage, is not a state of mind but a process

    Now you’re playing with semantics so as to be prescriptivist. Tsk.

    It can be both, or even something else.


  16. Robert B. says

    Actually I am making an ethical statement. What I meant was that skepticism as I described it refers to something virtuous in a way that the other meanings of the word do not, and so what I described, I hold to be correct skepticism.

  17. Egbert says

    The irony of ‘correct’ scepticism.

    Withholding judgment is the point of scepticism, unless good reason or evidence can support a positive position. Also, I recognize scepticism as not a position at all, but lack of position, and it can be self-defeating. Nonetheless, I’m happy to be sceptical rather than dogmatic.

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