You don’t have evidence for most of your beliefs. Get used to it.


Spotted on Facebook. Hated it.

I am a very critical thinker, which is why I am an Atheist — I don’t believe in things for the most part, unless there is evidence.

That’ bullshit. I’m an atheist, too, and I’m trained in science, and shocker…most of the things I know I don’t have evidence for. I can’t possibly. There are too many things. I haven’t tested whether brushing my teeth every morning actually prevents tooth decay. I haven’t even read any papers on the subject! It makes sense, and I suspect it’s probably true, and it’s a reasonable practice, so I’ll keep doing it. If I have to, like if there were some surprising statement that countered my subjective belief, I might look it up, and I trust that there have been scientific experiments to verify it, but right now I believe it in the absence of known evidence.

Likewise for every other mundane experience. There is electrical current coming out of my wall sockets when I plug things in, and I accept that as evidence that the wiring in my house is actually functional, and that it’s hooked up somewhere to a power supply, but I haven’t actually traced that wiring back to the (probably) coal plant that is generating electricity for me. The fact that my computer is working right now is evidence for something, sure, but the majority of the “things” that make it work are mostly assumptions on my part.

What I actually have is a consistent worldview built on a model I’ve tested on a few key points, and that seems to hold up well under most circumstances. That’s all any of us have. You can be a devout Catholic who believes in transubstantiation and the trinity and dead saviors rolling back stones, and you can say exactly the same thing — your model of the universe simply includes some fundamental assumptions mine doesn’t, and vice versa. You can even carry out the same logical process that I do with my wiring. You can say you’ve done spot checks of the pieces of your theology that matter to you now, and they hold up, but just as I haven’t visited the coal plant, you haven’t yet visited Heaven. You get satisfaction out of your weekly Mass, just as I’m happy with my house wiring and tooth-brushing, and that’s enough for now.

One difference, though, is that I’m a fan of testing my assumptions, mostly. We have this scientific method we use that allows us — even encourages us! — to examine and verify the stuff we don’t know, even if, to be perfectly honest, we can’t possibly examine everything. A scientist or a philosopher is going to inspect key assumptions now and then, and try to build better models of the world as they go, sometimes throwing out perfectly serviceable models, like religion, for others that get some, but never all, of the details better. Never lose sight of the fact that we’re all dealing in approximations, however, and most of what we think is true is actually simply consonant with our current model.

That’s one of the dangers of the kind of atheism held by the guy I took that quote from. It was taken from a conversation in which he actually refuses to consider evidence against his deeply held belief that women who accuse men of harassment are not trustworthy, and he offered up that statement as a testimony that his beliefs are all true, because as an atheist, he doesn’t believe in false things lacking in evidence. It’s a dangerously cocky dogmatism that far too many naive atheists support, where the fact that he has examined a few key points in his worldview (although, more likely, he’s had them handed to him when he read a book by Dawkins), means he has therefore verified all of his opinions with evidence. If he believes it, it must be a fact, because otherwise he wouldn’t believe it.

You’re supposed to practice this idea called epistemic humility. An awful lot of atheists seem to lack it.

Comments

  1. says

    It’s a dangerously cocky dogmatism that far too many naive atheists support, where the fact that he has examined a few key points in his worldview (although, more likely, he’s had them handed to him when he read a book by Dawkins), means he has therefore verified all of his opinions with evidence.

    I was born in an agnostic family. I was raised in the atheist city where majority of people don’t believe in God. For a long time I was an atheist without even knowing why, without having seriously researched religions. Me being an atheist was an accident of birth and not my own achievement.

  2. DanDare says

    Epistemic humility. Excellent.
    So the guy doesn’t check statistics and look at them every which way for meaning and error bars. But somehow just knows that women are unreliable accusers. What does he think about men who claimed to have been abused? Hs he looked at the stats for the most common type of perpetrator?
    Probably not.
    Often evidence in various forms is out there for what we beleive. If our beleifs come into question the first response should be to go looking and see if your beleifs are warranted.

  3. leerudolph says

    I was raised in the atheist city where majority of people don’t believe in God.

    The City of God: Augustine. The City of No God: Avester. I know which book I’d rather read!

  4. says

    Entirely agree. And I would say that this is a realization that comes with working on a PhD. In the course of research, you realize just how much work it is to verify a belief, even when all you’re doing is looking up other people’s work. I haven’t put in the work to verify all my beliefs, there isn’t enough time in a life.

  5. Sastra says

    A very critical thinker would say “I try to be a critical thinker.” They wouldn’t say they “are” one. Critical thinkers are far too aware of how biases can be unconscious, and that everyone is biased (including them.)

    I’m an atheist, too, and I’m trained in science, and shocker…most of the things I know I don’t have evidence for.

    You do. You just don’t have conclusive evidence for most of it because, as you say, there’s too much. For one thing, you haven’t noticed that you or the people around you who brush their teeth soon don’t have any. I would think that’s weak evidence in favor of the theory that brushing is good for teeth, because an obvious correlation between brushing teeth and losing teeth would count against it.

    I’m probably using a very broad definition of “evidence,” then, because I’m dividing it into strong, weak, good, and poor. The Facebook writer meant “good evidence,” since he’d classify opposing statistics as “bad evidence.” Which means that the statement is pretty pointless, because everyone who makes a rational case would say the same. I could only see it being a useful thing to say if the writer was arguing against someone who explicitly renounced all worldly evidence in favor of a blinding certainty in the soul.

    As it is, it’s just a way to say “you’re not being reasonable. But I am.”

  6. ikanreed says

    Thank you. Someone else finally said it.

    Critical thinking isn’t something you are. It’s something you can do.

    You can apply a rigorous process to understand the flaws in any kind of reasoning, but none of us do it automatically to everything we think and believe. It causes me no end of grief every time someone on the internet uses the word “logical” or “rational” that way.

  7. stroppy says

    Ergo metaliteracy (and some acquaintance with epistemology of course)
    https://blog.chron.com/climateabyss/2013/02/scientific-meta-literacy/

    Somewhere at the root you want solid evidence and a good measure of confidence. I’m pretty content to say that my acceptance of the idea of AGW is evidence based — based on reasonably good heuristics as opposed to the crap heuristics that squirt out of the mouth of Don “ItsAHoax” Trump– and the only assumption (“-ism”) being, provisionally, actualism.

  8. says

    Credulity and importance also matter.

    Likewise for every other mundane experience. There is electrical current coming out of my wall sockets when I plug things in, and I accept that as evidence that the wiring in my house is actually functional

    If I tell you it rained in Taipei for an hour today, you’d probably not bother to check even though you could because it’s an everyday event. If I told you there was a risk of gale force winds tonight, you might believe because it’s possible during typhoon season, even if not every day. If I said a 7.5 earthquake hit and “I need money!!!”, you might believe me for five minutes then ask yourself, “Why wasn’t this in the news?”

    Similarly, I could probably get away with lying about the first it because it’s unimportant. If I lied about the second, I might get away with it but risk being outed and hurting my name and reputation. If I lied about the third and got caught, I’d be persona non grata.

    Nearly all religious claims are like the third example, from “prayer healing” to mythical “gods”. They’re so unbelievable and implausible that they’re not even worth examining.

  9. PaulBC says

    I like to think of beliefs as working assumptions instead, though if you caught me off guard, I would reveal my belief. E.g., if you held a knife under my chin, and I tried to claim my reaction was based on a “working assumption” about the effect of thrusting a knife at that spot, you’d be right to call BS.

    On even fundamental scientific points, I admit I rely more on received information than evidence. I think it is not that hard to observe directly that the earth is a sphere (have I really, though?). It is a lot harder to verify directly that the earth orbits the sun. But it would take an enormous conspiracy to convince me of these if they weren’t true (the space program would require massive fraud that would be hard to carry out).

    Certainly I “believe” things that aren’t actually true, including things that contradict each other. A jury verdict of guilt or innocence is not a determination of truth, which is why the standard is usually beyond reasonable doubt, and which is why it is not a philosophical shock to find verdicts overturned by new evidence (though it often reveals a shockingly corrupt prosecution).

    When it comes to evidence in a legal sense, I feel more comfortable saying that I don’t exactly believe, but I do takes sides on which claimant I find the most credible. A lot of what people do is more a matter of taking sides than “belief” in an abstract sense, and I’m not ashamed to say that.

  10. Marcelo says

    the guy I took that quote from

    Is there a reason why you don’t mention the person in question by name, PZ? You usually don’t mince words to trounce the people you disagree with, which I normally appreciate.
    The comment seems very similar to other things said by a certain president of a certain Atheist Community, but I don’t know for certain if this is the person you meant.

  11. whywhywhy says

    Well not everyone is a ‘stable genius’ or ‘very critical thinker’.

    Key advice my pious mother gave me: “If someone introduces themselves as a Christian, check your wallet.”

  12. Artor says

    Likewise, I have not investigated to make sure my electricity comes from a nearby power plant. But I know exactly how I could find out. There’s a cable leading from the main fuse box on the side of my house that goes to a pole. I can trace that down the alley to a transformer. I can get in my car and follow the cable from there to a substation at the edge of town. From there I can follow the cable up the river to the dam, where sure enough, there’s a power plant with turbines. With a few phone calls, I could arrange a visit and go inside. An engineer could even give me a demonstration of how things work there. My science teacher in High School already gave me the demonstration on how electricity is made from a dynamo.
    How exactly can I do any of this to find out if heaven is real? What path do I follow? Is there anyone else, anyone at all, who has credible answers? Can anyone give me a demonstration? Is any of that hypothesis consistent with other facts I can check right now, or track down with any amount of effort?
    Sure, I believe some things I have not checked out, but most of them I can come up with a plan to verify them, even if I have not made that effort yet. If I can’t even conceive of making that plan, I’ll hold those beliefs very loosely. I believe that I’m a charming, good-looking guy, but I haven’t been able to get a good date in years, so perhaps my hypothesis needs revision.

  13. PaulBC says

    Artor@14 I think that’s a good starting point, i.e. “Can I even conceive of the existence of a falsifiable experiment for testing this claim?” That is pretty much where I’m at in terms of religious belief, the clear answer being “No.”

    Even having the experience of witnessing a miracle firsthand (and I have not) would open up doubt about my mental state and would admit other explanations that are equally plausible to “what it says in this book is all true.” In no particular order, nor an exhaustive list: (a) some other book explains it (b) it is the work of advanced extraterrestrial intelligence (c) I am living in a simulation.

    However, my main reason not to believe in a particular religion is simply the observation that there are many religions in the world and they can’t all be true. It seems more likely that they’re all wrong. It would also be an awfully strange coincidence if I just happened to be born in the one that was correct.

  14. says

    Normally, I wouldn’t be shy about outing the jerk…but I took this comment from another person who was quoting them. Don’t want to out a whole cascade of people arguing with them.

  15. mnb0 says

    “most of the things I know I don’t have evidence for.”
    That you don’t have it doesn’t mean there isn’t any. There is evidence for all examples you mention – you just haven’t checked it yourself. And exactly that is why

    “he actually refuses to consider evidence against his deeply held belief that women who accuse men of harassment are not trustworthy”
    is utterly stupid. There totally is evidence that they largely are trustworthy (more than 90%). No. I haven’t checked myself.

  16. brucegee1962 says

    I think that a lot — probably most — of what we believe is due to the “trusted source” model. We tend to find someone who seems pretty smart, and (usually) whose background and culture and belief structure aligns with our own. Then, if THEY say that they’ve found enough evidence to have confidence in something, we tend to go along. That’s why it’s so hard to use evidence to change someone’s mind — we have to establish the trust first.

    I’ve found this affecting myself in a political sense frequently. There will be an issue like NAFTA that I don’t really have an opinion on, but a politician that I like will say that it’s bad, so I’ll just agree without looking into it too deeply. I know this is a bad habit, but probably unavoidable.

  17. brucegee1962 says

    It’s even worse when it works the other way. If Trump says that we are being taken advantage of in our dealings with China, my kneejerk reaction is to assume he’s lying, because he lies soooooo much. But of course, it’s quite possible that “China is taking advantage of us” AND “Trump is a lying weasel” are both true statements.

  18. PaulBC says

    brucegee1962@18 A concept that came up in a recent job is “data provenance.” This was medical data, specifically, but if I understand it right, the point is that all the data (some of which is inevitably inaccurate) should be annotated as to its source.

    I think that while we’re not going to have justified beliefs for everything, it is good maintain a mental provenance model. While you may be stuck being wrong about certain conclusions, yet apply them, e.g. to votes, at least you have an audit trail for where they came from. It is probably even better to have some kind of due diligence process to track what you did and where you got the information from. There’s a point at which it is probably not feasible. However, it is not what most people even attempt, so taking a real shot at it is already a start.

  19. Kip Williams says

    On the subject of believing most of what you see because Occam’s Razor and all that, here’s my all-time favorite illusion by Penn and Teller: Pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. Besides being a textbook in basic moves, this is the embodiment of the inscription on Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales: “The endlessly fresh pleasure of a useless occupation.”

    https://binged.it/2MEj857

  20. robert79 says

    He’s got it completely backwards.

    To function in society you’ll simply have to take some things for granted (if I didn’t believe the “fresh baked” signs on my baker’s bread without actually seeing him bake it, I’d probably starve.)

    The main part of skepticism is the willingness to disbelieve anything, even if just for the sake of argument, the moment that contradictory evidence (or some mildly believable argument) shows up.

  21. Ian Maxwell says

    I would submit that reading or hearing something from a trusted source is itself evidence. It’s not conclusive or irrefutable evidence, but it’s some. Presumably that source is more likely to say “P” if P than it is if ¬P, that’s exactly what “evidence for P” means.

  22. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To PZ
    You have a very narrow definition of “evidence”. At least, it seems pretty obvious that the speaker meant something like “good rational, scientific reasons”. Trust can be rational and scientific. Ex: Eye witness testimony is one of the worst kinds of evidence, but it’s still evidence.

  23. clrbear430 says

    I have read the papers about brushing and flossing your teeth every day. Science works. (I haven’t been able to tell the difference with flossing every week.)

  24. Rob Grigjanis says

    Ian Maxwell @23:

    I would submit that reading or hearing something from a trusted source is itself evidence

    Isn’t that the problem? That many people have trusted sources which tell them that anthropogenic climate is a hoax, Obama was born in Kenya, etc?

    Trust but verify. And if verification fails, stop trusting.

  25. gruebleen says

    “naive atheist” ?

    Not sure that’s quite the term I’d use to qualify epistemic arrogance combined with existential ignorance.

    And I reckon that we really must try to get away from this absurd notion that somehow we are supposed to ‘verify’ everything that we ‘believe’. We all know that we can’t, and we all know that we don’t have to because in general we can accept that other people have and we can believe their pronouncements – well, as much as we can believe any pronouncements at all, I guess, including belief in what our senses “tell” us.

    As PaulBC rightly says (@11): ” I rely more on received information than evidence” So do I, so do we all. Life would be one long act of ‘ignorance paralysis’ otherwise. We all have to accept the “trusted source model” as brucegee (@18) succinctly expressed it.

  26. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    If I tell you it rained in Taipei for an hour today, you’d probably not bother to check even though you could because it’s an everyday event. If I told you there was a risk of gale force winds tonight, you might believe because it’s possible during typhoon season, even if not every day. If I said a 7.5 earthquake hit and “I need money!!!”, you might believe me for five minutes then ask yourself, “Why wasn’t this in the news?”

    I think it was Tracie Harris who suggested a different, and better, way of looking at this situation.

    What you say is correct, but it’s not the whole story. Rather, if you say that it rained in Taipei for an hour today, I can tentatively grant “social acceptance” of this claim does not impose a burden on myself. One way to look at it is that I do not really believe it strongly, and I simply act socially as though I accept it at face value, because it’s not worth arguing about and asking “how do you know that?”. If you then say “And I will bet you 50 bucks that my claim is true”, then my social stance will immediately change, and I will start acting like I don’t believe it (which is different from believing that it is false). So, oftentimes we pretend to accept the mundane and trivial claims of others out of social politeness and expediency, but it doesn’t mean we really believe the claims with strong confidence.

    Having said all of that, let me again repeat myself and say that your part of the story is still correct, but it’s only a part of the story and not the whole story.

    In other words, I do accept mundane claims more readily than unlikely and fantastic claims. However, if a stranger makes a mundane claim to me, I think it’s more accurate to say that this often causes me to have a weak tentative belief that it’s true, but I pretend that I strongly believe it’s true because of social expectations, and I don’t have a strong belief that the claim is true just because a stranger made the claim, even if it’s mundane.

  27. KG says

    Makes a change to agree with GerardOfTitanServer. Of course the testimony of others is evidence, particularly if it has emerged from a social process which includes systematic error-correction, like maths or science. Knowledge is social.

  28. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Even having the experience of witnessing a miracle firsthand (and I have not) would open up doubt about my mental state and would admit other explanations that are equally plausible to “what it says in this book is all true.” In no particular order, nor an exhaustive list: (a) some other book explains it (b) it is the work of advanced extraterrestrial intelligence (c) I am living in a simulation.

    You made many common philosophical errors.

    Imagine tomorrow that we discover the ability to cast magic spells, as described in the Player’s Handbook of Dungeons And Dragons. Some people with better aptitude will train for years in wizard schools, and wizards will open up shops at every corner, to cast spells to help you find your lost car keys, or predict the future performance of stocks, and many, many other things. In this sort of world, it would be perverse to deny the obvious. TV Tropes has a term for people who would deny the obvious existence of magic, gods, etc., a “flat-Earth atheist”.
    https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FlatEarthAtheist

    The distinction between “advanced extraterrestrial intelligence” and “gods” is often a distinction without a meaning. “Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic” and “any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science!”.
    http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php?date=20081205

    Fundamentally, the problem is that our English language is tricking you. The word “supernatural” is borderline meaningless, and it’s almost always used as a cop-out by religious persons as to why we shouldn’t apply science and skepticism to their religious claims. Same with “magic”, “miracles”, and the like. It’s all just material claims, and we should apply the standard methods of scientific investigation and skepticism to all material claims, including religious claims. “Methodological naturalism”, as understood as an intrinsic limit to scientific investigation, is wrong.
    https://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism


    And finally, regarding the simulation hypothesis, this is no more or less true than right now. I don’t see why living in a world of D&D wizards would adjust your estimation of whether we live in a simulation or not. In other words, why might you think that the modern, standard understanding of physics is “more compatible” with physical realism as opposed to a world with D&D wizards? I don’t see any good reason to reach that conclusion that one is “more compatible”.

  29. brucegee1962 says

    @31 GerardOfTitanServer

    “Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic” and “any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science!”.

    We seem to be straying pretty far from the OP here, but I’m going to disagree with you here, because this is something I’ve thought a lot about as it applies to both fiction and RPGs. While it’s true that most magical systems in literature end up feeling very similar to science, I wouldn’t agree that they MUST end up this way. In fact, it tends to really bug me when a magic system is too scientific — because if it’s just a different set of rules, then what’s the point?

    For instance, one of the very foundations of science is replicability — but there isn’t any particular reason why magic needs to share that quality. You could have a magic system where chanting bad Latin and waving a magic wand created a different effect every time, or sometimes no effect at all. Perhaps magic powers are granted by fairies or gods, and in order to invoke them, you must compose an original limerick that has never been used for this purpose before, and the beings who judge the quality of the limericks use criteria for judging that are undiscernable to mortals.

    Basically, the only magic that is indistinguishable from science is the kind made up by scientists.

  30. chrislawson says

    GerrardOfTitanServer@25–

    Nope. The original quote came from someone who believes most men accused of harrassment should be believed. There is no defensible definition of “evidence” that supports this conclusion. In fact, the opposite is true. Even the most superficial knowledge of the problem would lead a genuine critical thinker to believe that the vast majority of accusations of sexual harassment are correct.

    This is not to say that there are never false accusations made, but even if you take a simplistic Bayesian approach, your prior probability of an accusation being true should be >0.95.

  31. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To brucegee1962
    Your real complaint can be phrased as “but some conceivable magical processes might be immune to scientific investigation”. Yes, and so what? This is also true for many conceivable naturalistic physicalist materialist processes. It is no more or less true for magic. You seem to want to make the leap “and therefore we shouldn’t true to use science to investigate processes that a random asshat claims is magical.” Saying “but it’s magic!” is not a “get out of science and skepticism free card”. Also, you won’t even know if it’s “real magic” until you investigate it closely. “Methodological naturalism” as a fundamental limitation to scientific inquiry is bullshit. Methodological naturalism is a good tentative, provisional, rule to limit inquiry into only natural e.g. material e.g. physicalist explanations not because science is unable or unequipped to investigate supernatural explanation. Rather, it’s good tentative, provisional idea because we have explored supernatural explanations many, many times, and every time they either turn out to be wrong, or untestable. It’s because of this excellent track record that we (tentatively) conclude that the supernatural does not exist, and that is the philosophical logical basis for using methodological naturalism to shape future inquiry. And because it’s just a tentative, provisional limitation, it could be overturned based on future evidence, such as my example where D&D wizards become commonplace.

    This is a point made in the Boudry paper, and I encourage you to read it if you have not already. The linked-to Skepticon lecture is pretty good too and looks at this problem from another aspect.

  32. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To chrislawson
    Sorry. I didn’t know the original context when I wrote what I wrote. I agree with what you said. I think you’re agreeing with me too.

  33. PaulBC says

    GerrardOfTitanServer@31

    And finally, regarding the simulation hypothesis, this is no more or less true than right now. I don’t see why living in a world of D&D wizards would adjust your estimation of whether we live in a simulation or not. In other words, why might you think that the modern, standard understanding of physics is “more compatible” with physical realism as opposed to a world with D&D wizards? I don’t see any good reason to reach that conclusion that one is “more compatible”.

    Hmm… well OK. On the one hand, the simulation hypothesis is no more falsifiable than solipsism, but as long as I can understand my experience arising from uniform physical laws, I’m inclined to think of it as something real. It’s of course entirely possible that there’s a metauniverse in which they’re trying out little universes like ours with different but uniform and consistent physical laws at least partially discernible using the scientific method. I just don’t find that hypothesis useful in explaining anything. Needless to say, it is also equivalent to not being in a simulation.

    On the other hand, if I find myself running from a demigorgon (like Stranger Things) and it’s actually described with great accuracy in a game manual (though in the show, this is more of a metaphor) I would have to conclude that something is happening that isn’t really consistent with uniform and potentially discernible physical laws. I mean, I would at the very least want some kind of mechanism to explain how all that information about the real-life demigorgon got in the book that I thought was about a game. It doesn’t seem like a natural process, but rather a process requiring intent from someone a lot more powerful than I am (e.g., it could be extraterrestrials or the metauniverse entity running the simulator; this is where I start to wonder). (I agree by the way that a sufficiently advanced ET is indistinguishable from a deity and could conceivably create a world on the scale of the one described in Genesis in as short a time period with adequate stellar engineering).

    I don’t find it miraculous that water evaporates, even if I don’t fully comprehend the process. On the other hand, if I discovered that saying “Nolo Evaporatum” and waving my hands three times over a glass of water prevented it from ever evaporating, that would be a strange thing indeed. It would completely screw up my methodological naturalism even (and perhaps especially) if it was the only magic I was aware of, and consistently reproducible. Why would science explain everything except this one entirely inconsequential and inconsistent phenomenon? I would definitely be a lot more likely to think that something funny was going on (exactly what I don’t know) or perhaps that I was losing my mind. (Or someone is surreptitiously refilling the water, but what if I install cameras, etc.?)

    Actually, a real-life example comes up in The Map that Changed the World about geologist William Smith. People have been observing fossils for millennia and have reached different conclusions about what they are (though the view that they derive from the remains of living things is an old and correct one). But those who find it difficult to reconcile a fossilized sea creature with its location far inland took this as evidence of an agent creating them separately (like God producing stone doodles or burying little knick knacks for us to find).

    In this case, there is an enormous gulf between something very curious: a rock that looks remarkably like a sea creature, and a really good explanation for it consistent with natural laws. Barring such an explanation and hypothesizing an intentional artist making non-living facsimiles of real and fanciful creatures is not consistent with science as now practiced.

  34. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    On the other hand, if I find myself running from a demigorgon (like Stranger Things) and it’s actually described with great accuracy in a game manual (though in the show, this is more of a metaphor) I would have to conclude that something is happening that isn’t really consistent with uniform and potentially discernible physical laws.

    Why? Have you never played D&D? As brucegee1962 observed above, a demigorgon does obey uniform, discernible physical laws. There’s a whole list of rules that describe what it can and cannot do.

    I mean, I would at the very least want some kind of mechanism to explain how all that information about the real-life demigorgon got in the book that I thought was about a game.

    This is another very common philosophical error. The short version: Realize that you don’t have a mechanism for gravity either.

    The long version:

    You might say that there’s a Newtonian force that causes two pieces of matter to attract each other, and I’ll just ask “what is the mechanism by which two pieces of mass attrach each other?”, and you would have no answer. Alternatively, you might say that matter warps and bends spacetime, and gravity is just the apparent motion of objects through warped spacetime, and I’ll just ask “what is the mechanism by which mass bends spacetime?”.

    Science is not in the business of providing mechanisms in this sense. Every mechanism is simply an explanation in terms of some other model. This sort of explanation is known as a reductionistic explanation. Via the Münchhausen trilemma, a reductionistic explanation might explain something in terms of something else, but quickly this chain of scientific reductionistic explanations will reach a scientific model for which we don’t have a mechanism. We don’t know how gravity works. We know that gravity does work, and we have very detailed mathematical models that predict what will happen regarding gravity in many situations, but we do not have an explanation about the mechanism behind gravity. That’s just not what science is here for. Sure, one day, we might discover a mechanism for gravity, but that new discovery would be a discovery of a new model of causation without a mechanism to explain it.

    The problem is that you’re so used to asking for mechanisms in order for something to be “science” that you don’t realize that at the bottom of our conventional notion of reality, we don’t have mechanisms at all.

    Fundamentally, the way that you show A causes B is to do a control-group experiment-group lab experiment. What is that? It’s using correlation to show causation. When you combine correlation-over-time with genuine attempts at removing all confouding variables – that is how you show causation. That’s the only way that you can show causation in any ultimate or fundamental sense. Any reductionistic explanation works only to the extent that someone previously developed a causative model by showing correlation in time plus genuine attempts to remove confounding variables.

    In pithy terms: Gravity is magic.

    For further reading, I suggest the work of Hume, and specifically his writing on “constant conjunction”.

  35. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Sorry, need to add:

    One of my favorite examples is to give a few examples of explanations in the everyday world of D&D.

    “Why does that orc have its legs broken?” “It’s because our party’s fighter pushed the orc off a cliff, and the orc fell because of gravity, and the stop at the end of the fall broke the orc’s legs.”

    “Why does that orc have a hole through its chest?” “It’s because our party’s fighter stabbed the orb with his sword.”

    “Why does that orc have burns over their entire body?” “It’s because our party’s wizard casted a fireball spell on the orc.”

    In a world where wizards casting fireballs is commonplace, that explanation is mundane and exactly the same sort of explanation as the previous two explanations. A person knows that wizards can cast fireballs, and they take that fact for granted, and they can use that fact to understand why the orc has burns over their entire body.

    The only way that you can answer any “why?” or “how?” or “what is the mechanism?” questions is if you are in a place where you already accept something to be true. Otherwise you’re constantly asking the “why?” question, ala the “regress argument” aka Münchhausen trilemma.

    Here’s a short video of the foremost physicist of the previous generation, Richard Feynman, saying this in more detail. It’s only about 7 minutes. Please watch it. It’s really crucial to dispelling this fundamental philosophical misunderstanding.

    Feynman Answering: “How Do Magnets Work?”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MO0r930Sn_8

  36. gruebleen says

    GerrardOfTitanServer @29

    “a weak tentative belief that it’s true”

    That’s just about saying the same as “a [conditional] suspension of disbelief” isn’t it ? And didn’t we use that expression quite routinely in such circumstances ?

  37. says

    @32, brucegee1962

    For instance, one of the very foundations of science is replicability — but there isn’t any particular reason why magic needs to share that quality. You could have a magic system where chanting bad Latin and waving a magic wand created a different effect every time, or sometimes no effect at all. Perhaps magic powers are granted by fairies or gods, and in order to invoke them, you must compose an original limerick that has never been used for this purpose before, and the beings who judge the quality of the limericks use criteria for judging that are undiscernable to mortals.

    Basically, the only magic that is indistinguishable from science is the kind made up by scientists.

    Wait though, just imagine a technology designed to do those exact things:

    create random or no effects for waving wands or chanting whatever.

    Powerful aliens who want you to compose an original limerick etc. before they will grant wishes or whatever.

    In fact, on computers right now, we do have the ability to simulate rolling dice or flipping coins to produce effects that are “non-replicatable”.

  38. John Morales says

    Gerrard, posing as an expert:

    Why? Have you never played D&D? As brucegee1962 observed above, a demigorgon does obey uniform, discernible physical laws. There’s a whole list of rules that describe what it can and cannot do.

    Nah. As Gary Gigax himself put it, the rules are intended as guidelines.

    I know from experience, the moment you play with the rules as definitive, rule-lawyering by players will ensue, to the detriment of the game.

  39. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To gruebleen
    Uhh, I thought my earlier post was in response to Intransitive. Yet, it seems like you’re talking to me as if you’re responding to me responding to you. The use of the word “we” in particular confuses me. But yea, what you say sounds fine.

  40. anchor says

    @39 – GerrardOfTitanServer — Here’s another, almost made to order in this context:

    Richard Feynman: “Take the World from Another Point of View”

  41. hemidactylus says

    A bit late to this thread, but if PZ were considering the purchase of an electric car, figuring out whether a majority of electricity output at his house is coal sourced would be important. From what I superficially understand a traditional gasoline burning car (or better yet hybrid) would have a less degrading footprint with ultimate sources other than coal.

    @20- PaulBC
    Mental provenance may be a good idea given source reputation, but it risks genetic fallacy. Sourcing is important when publishing an article, as citation is critical as is staying close to primaries, but agnostic of source context, one could merely dissect the argument on its face.

  42. Kagehi says

    But of course, it’s quite possible that “China is taking advantage of us” AND “Trump is a lying weasel” are both true statements.

    And, of course, the third option, “This is politics between countries, by both sides, pretty much by definition.”, and, “Yep, lying weasel.” The former of which would be nice to not have, but isn’t going to be solved by doubling down on causing hassle, problems, and generally trying to out weasel the other country.

  43. PaulBC says

    GerrardOfTitanServer

    I understand that in a philosophical sense, anything testable and repeatable can be brought under the umbrella of science. But in practice, real scientists rarely find this satisfactory. As in my other example, if I had a magic spell for preventing a glass of water from evaporating, and could demonstrate it to any unbiased observer at any time, that spell would be at the very least an anomaly. There would be continued effort to fold it into explanations that apply to other things, and, yes, a search for some kind of mechanism to answer roughly how it works.

    I agree that eventually the search for a mechanism is pointless, but very few researchers are willing to stop and say “Well, that’s just what happens. What part don’t you get?” You try to push it down to a different level at which it can be understood in other terms.

  44. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To PaulBC
    Totally agreed. The ongoing never-ending search for mechanisms, and its fruits, is one of the great successes of science. In other words, the greatest triumph of science is taking all of the things in the world that we see, or damn near all of them, and providing reductionistic explanations for all of them in terms of just a few simple mathematical models, eg quantum field theory and general relativity.

    PS
    Of course, these reductionistic explanations are almost always “in principle” as opposed to “in practice” because of the incredible difficulty of computation. For example, it would be foolish to try to understand evolution in practice by working on the equations of quantum field theory.

    However, there is very little doubt that every step and process of evolution is simply the bits of quantum field theory playing themselves out according to the rules of quantum field theory.

  45. consciousness razor says

    PaulBC:

    As in my other example, if I had a magic spell for preventing a glass of water from evaporating, and could demonstrate it to any unbiased observer at any time, that spell would be at the very least an anomaly. There would be continued effort to fold it into explanations that apply to other things, and, yes, a search for some kind of mechanism to answer roughly how it works.

    What kind of environment is this glass of water in? If I should assume it’s your ordinary warm dry room, then the idea with statistical mechanics is that the system is likely to evolve into higher entropy states. That would mean for example the water evaporating (after some time), as well as the glass that contained the water disintegrating (again, if you wait long enough). Let me ask it before I dive any deeper into this — are you very surprised when don’t see glasses disintegrating in front of your eyes?
    After water in a glass evaporates, the molecules in the room could of course reconstitute themselves into new glasses of water, over and over again. Or they could do many other things … configure themselves into the text of Genesis chapter 1 (KJV), do a rendition of Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, form into 300 tiny figurines of the same hummingbird, or what have you.
    I think things like that ought to be more astonishing to you than one glass of water not evaporating (for what seems like a long time). Anyway, that’s a prediction, in some sense of the term, although such bizarre states aren’t exactly “predicted” to happen, if you take that to mean this is what the theory says is likely to happen after some not-insanely-long period of time. That’s because obviously they’re extremely unlikely in some sense, requiring an extremely specific set of conditions/events in order to produce that outcome. (It’s specific, which is to say it isn’t generic with respect to the very imprecise macroscopic specification we started with, such as “a glass of water in a warm dry room.”)
    With all that said, there isn’t anything to suggest that those are literally and physically impossible. Whatever you and Gerrard presumably mean by “mechanisms,” then you’ve got them in ordinary physics. But if you wanted the physics to pat you on the back and encourage you, by saying that this is the sort of thing you should expect to happen so don’t worry your little head about it anymore, then it sounds to me like you’re asking for something other than just a plain old “mechanism.”
    Let’s also notice that you wouldn’t have evidence that the water “never” evaporates from the glass — you’d observe it only for a while and say it hasn’t evaporated yet. So that may be surprising to you, but it’s not nearly as surprising as it could be, as I tried to explain above. You should be relatively flummoxed and baffled about it.
    I guess if you’re prepared to make that kind of move, to say that there’s magic or we’re in a simulation (don’t see how that follows) or whatever, well then I guess you haven’t set your standards about those propositions very high, for reasons I don’t understand. It might make more sense to give yourself some headroom to work with…. What would you say, if something really stupendously inexplicable happens next? I mean, you’ve already played the “magic exists, gods exist, we’re in a simulation” card, when it was only a glass of water behaving anomalously for a little while. Imagine things get even more weird, because they could get much much much more weird. What then?
    Let me also point out that you merely assumed that your incantation and hand gestures were relevant to the water remaining in the glass. They may be correlated somehow, but (whether or not you find it reasonable) it is still true that we have no need of that hypothesis. I bet there are ways to get the water to not evaporate without your “magic spell.” (Admittedly, they’re pretty weird, but their weirdness isn’t at issue, since they exist no matter how weird they are. We’re kind of “weird,” if you think about it, because we are physical systems that can produce all of the “bizarre” outcomes I mentioned before, and yet here we are.)
    The point is that it’s not as if all of those other possibilities have been ruled out, once you simply propose some causal story that your spell was (in this particular case) relevant to the outcome. But it seems like you just take it for granted that they are ruled out somehow.

  46. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    The point is that it’s not as if all of those other possibilities have been ruled out, once you simply propose some causal story that your spell was (in this particular case) relevant to the outcome. But it seems like you just take it for granted that they are ruled out somehow.

    It was stated (approx) “in the hypothetical world where the magic incantation works, and where anyone could verify that it works”. It was further implied that many, many people performed the test, e.g. a simple control-group experiment-group scientific experiment, and it was implied that many people each performed such a test many times. Are you saying that this sort of evidence would not be enough to convince you that the magic incantation works? Sounds like you are saying that you would be a flat-Earth atheist if you were somehow transported to such a hypothetical world.
    https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FlatEarthAtheist

  47. consciousness razor says

    It was stated (approx) “in the hypothetical world where the magic incantation works, and where anyone could verify that it works”.

    The magic incantation hypothesis is a proposed explanation of the phenomena that “it seems to work,” and the issue is that merely seeming to work doesn’t suffice for your conclusion that this is really what is going on in reality. So, there can be other valid explanations (with roughly the same plausibility, if not more plausibility), even in worlds in which there are some people who believe the magic incantation hypothesis is true. What you’re actually stipulating here is not a type of world where that conclusion is somehow logically forced on us.
    What we do have in the types of worlds where “it works” is a set of phenomena. And there are also in such worlds various people who try to explain these phenomena in various ways. I don’t think I was supposed to imagine a world where nobody thinks (or is capable of thinking) that there could be a physical explanation, or any other alternative explanation, because the only one which is (or could be) on the table is the magical incantation hypothesis.
    If that’s the kind of world I was supposed to imagine, that’s pretty fucking strange … but more importantly, I don’t understand the thrust of the argument anymore. Sure, you got your conclusion by assuming it — you can do that if it makes you feel better, and I’ll allow it because why the hell not — but does that represent the world we actually live in? If not, what are we talking about?

    Sounds like you are saying that you would be a flat-Earth atheist if you were somehow transported to such a hypothetical world.

    Ah yes, TV Tropes, that bountiful font of philosophical wisdom.
    I didn’t say I would be a flat-Earth atheist. I did say a lot of other things, but not that.

  48. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To consciousness razor

    If that’s the kind of world I was supposed to imagine, that’s pretty fucking strange … but more importantly, I don’t understand the thrust of the argument anymore. Sure, you got your conclusion by assuming it — you can do that if it makes you feel better, and I’ll allow it because why the hell not — but does that represent the world we actually live in? If not, what are we talking about?

    We are talking about epistemology. We are talking about how you are justified in making the conclusion that this is not the sort of world that we live in. You are justified to make that conclusion. However, it seems that you don’t know why you are justified to have that belief. The justification for that belief is: many people have already performed the experiment, and thus far, we haven’t found a spoken incantation that prevents water from evaporating from an open cup in household conditions. That scientific inquiry, and others like it, are the epistemological basis for you being justified to say and believe “that’s not the sort of world that we live in”.

    I did not say that you say that you would be a flat-Earth atheist in that kind of world. I am asserting that you are behaving like a flat-Earth atheist, and I am asserting that you are making the same fundamental philosophical error as the flat-Earth atheist as described in tv tropes. You are behaving according to the typical strawman caricature given by religious believers, the strawman that all materialists and naturalists are that way because of a faith belief no different than their faith belief that their particular version of god exists.

    Seriously – if tomorrow someone discovered a magic incantation that worked to do exactly that, and it was published on the internet and everyone found out about it, and everyone could do it, and do it on demand, and it always worked, are you going to sit there and deny the undeniable? Are you really going to say “but you actually haven’t shown that the magic incantation works”? That’s ridiculous. It’s just as ridiculous as any character in fiction who fits the “flat-Earth atheist” stereotype, e.g. anyone who shows incredible and over-the-top amounts of skepticism regarding supernatural claims. Let me provide some quotes from the tvtropes page.

    In the Age of Ultron tie-in for Fantastic Four, Mr. Fantastic tells his views on afterlife thus: “I am a man of science. There is no God. There is no Heaven. There is no Hell.” Just to put this in perspective, not only does he personally know Thor and Hercules (and incidentally was established as believing in a God many times in the past), but he’s actually been to Heaven and met Godnote Well, Jack Kirby as well.

    * Heck, just a page or so earlier in that very issue with the above quote, Ben talks about Doctor Doom’s machine for contacting the afterlife, which everyone present knows about.

    Miguel O’Hara, Spider-Man of the year 2099 has been shown to be openly atheistic. Not believing there is a God is one thing, but then he also has explicitly said that upon death a person’s soul or mind does not “go” anywhere, but simply ceases to exist. That second one seems a strange claim for an atheist in a world where it has been shown a person’s mind can exist as a psychic entity completely separated from the body, and several people have blatantly returned from the dead.

    See also:
    https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ArbitrarySkepticism

    Justice League
    * In an early episode, Green Lantern doesn’t believe a story The Flash is telling him about a talking gorilla, before Flash calls him out:
    * * Flash: We both have a Martian on our speed dial. I think I deserve the benefit of the doubt here.
    * * * This is even sillier when you account for John actually belonging to two hero teams, the other one being made up of representatives from all over the universe. Little blue men from outer space gave him his powers in the first place.

    Consciousness razor, this is what you are doing right now.

  49. consciousness razor says

    I did not say that you say that you would be a flat-Earth atheist in that kind of world. I am asserting that you are behaving like a flat-Earth atheist, and I am asserting that you are making the same fundamental philosophical error as the flat-Earth atheist as described in tv tropes. You are behaving according to the typical strawman caricature given by religious believers, the strawman that all materialists and naturalists are that way because of a faith belief no different than their faith belief that their particular version of god exists.
    Seriously – if tomorrow someone discovered a magic incantation that worked to do exactly that, and it was published on the internet and everyone found out about it, and everyone could do it, and do it on demand, and it always worked, are you going to sit there and deny the undeniable? Are you really going to say “but you actually haven’t shown that the magic incantation works”? That’s ridiculous.

    Why are you both telling me and asking me what I think? I believe the reason why is because you had a strawman ready to tear down, before I ever encountered this thread or wrote a single word of comments #49 or #51. Perhaps something tells you I’m not that strawman, hence the questioning, but you may not know how to respond substantively to the things I did actually write. I suspect we’re starting in very different places, and maybe you didn’t understand something in what I wrote. (Perhaps that’s my fault. I don’t know.) So let’s start over….
    Suppose there’s a world in which people think fire is made of fire spirits, and that by invoking the will of the fire spirits by correctly performing what they call a “fire ritual,” one could produce a fire. What I wouldn’t deny is that such people produce fire — or at any rate that they could in the right circumstances, in that world, because it’s assumed to be the case that fires exist in that world as they do in ours. (And that does mean physical fires — combustion, oxidation, and so on — just in case you’re tempted to give some other meaning to the word “fire” which might be imagined for a strange alternate reality.)
    So they make fires somehow. Sounds good so far. However, their explanation for this set of events is something else. I would need to know specifically that their “fire ritual” doesn’t in fact use any physical method to produce said fires, in order to actually and literally rule those out. I know of no other reasonable way of coming to that type of conclusion. Do you? I don’t think you do.
    Or if the goal here is merely that I should consider physical explanations less plausible, not outright impossible given whatever background knowledge I’m allowed, then they need to actually be shown somehow to be less plausible than a reasonably expansive and promising set of alternative explanations. That would require doing some actual work to find out, not just an assertion by you or anybody else. Right? I think that’s right.
    If you just told me “but they do make fire, and they do it reliably!!1!!eleventy!!!” that simply doesn’t advance the argument that I should believe their story about fire spirits. They might be mistaken about the fire spirits, the claims that the fire ritual is not a physical process (perhaps one in disguise or without their knowledge/understanding of that fact), or they may be mistaken about tons of stuff for all I know. And to me, it doesn’t seem kosher at this point in the argument for you to assert that they must be non-mistaken, because you say so. I need better than that. I need some kind of less ridiculous way of coming to that same conclusion, if I’m going to honestly state later on that the method I used was not so ridiculous. Right? I think that’s right too.
    When I see the fires produced and don’t deny the obvious (the phenomenon itself, as I described it before), I still have a significant job to do: think hard about what is really going on and ask myself what I think the best explanation for it seems to be. Their explanation might be crap, even if they manage to produce fires, right? It may be some kind of evidence that they’re on to something, but it doesn’t get us all the way to the finish line. So what do you expect me to do? I’m assuming it’s not just “follow the herd,” but I don’t really know what you expect. It can’t be “read TV Tropes” either. Give me something useful.

  50. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    If you just told me “but they do make fire, and they do it reliably!!1!!eleventy!!!” that simply doesn’t advance the argument that I should believe their story about fire spirits.

    You have this really nasty habit of replacing the hypothetical that I give, with a slightly different hypothetical that you give, which fundamentally changes the argument because of the slight differences. (You did it repeatedly in the gun debate that we recently had, and you’re doing it again here.)

    Difference one: In my hypothetical, I did not give a reductionistic explanation. I did not give a proposed mechanism. I simply said that “A causes B” without giving a mechanism. Your addition of a proposed explanation “and the mechanism is fire spirits” has nothing to do with what I just said.

    Difference two: I didn’t only say that someone reports to you that some small isolated group reports that some incantation “makes fire”. I said that in this hypothetical world, you too can do this incantation to make fire, and that you have extensively and personally tested that this incantation makes fire (and it makes fire every time you tried), and you personally have taken extensive steps to rule out possible confounding variables, e.g. other “mundane, physical” reasons, and millions of people around the world report doing the same extensive testing that you have, and no one reports a contradictory result.

    For the love of dog, please engage with what I’m actually writing instead of your own strawmen of my position. And learn to read. Ok. I know you know how to read. Instead, slow the fuck down, and take that chip off your shoulder, and read for comprehension instead of skimming in order to make a rebuttal.

    And to me, it doesn’t seem kosher at this point in the argument for you to assert that they must be non-mistaken,

    Again, for emphasis, because you’re just that bad of a reader, my example did not contain the equivalent of “and therefore fire spirits must be repsonsible”. Rather, my example stopped at “the magic incantation works, e.g. there is a causative effect, and I don’t know how it works”. In my example, I did not go on and say “and therefore it must be fire spirits”.

  51. consciousness razor says

    Again, for emphasis, because you’re just that bad of a reader, my example did not contain the equivalent of “and therefore fire spirits must be repsonsible”. Rather, my example stopped at “the magic incantation works, e.g. there is a causative effect, and I don’t know how it works”. In my example, I did not go on and say “and therefore it must be fire spirits”.

    I didn’t think it was your example. The magical incantation to prevent water from evaporating was PaulBC’s idea from #36. I was writing to PaulBC, who may not be entirely on board with anything I said, but I was implicitly agreeing that his “magic spell” could have a naturalistic explanation which people would understandably try to find, despite his statements that it would rock his world and so forth.
    Right there, in what PaulBC was saying, the going idea was something like “fire spirits are responsible” (not “must be” just “are”), although that is of course inadequate if you ask certain people who subscribe to naturalism.
    That’s when I came in, when I started discussing some of the very strange things that (we already know) could be accounted for with physics. This is the sort of thing people would try to do, if they wanted to find some physical explanation for the kind of strange events that PaulBC (and not you) had described.
    If you bite the bullet that the events in question are just very unlikely, which is a bullet you could certainly bite, then it’s not as if ordinary physics doesn’t actually have the resources/mechanisms to handle lots of really crazy shit happening, things that we have never observed in our ordinary day-to-day experience. You may not be happy with entertaining such extremely unlikely processes as the best physical explanation that anybody can come up with. But then again, you may think magic is also extremely unlikely and be very unhappy with that.
    I can’t make everybody happy about everything, especially when the world is such an unhappy place, so I’m not going to try to do that. I was just writing a comment.
    And then you found something I said objectionable … it’s not clear what, because you’ve barely addressed anything I said.

  52. John Morales says

    Such a digression!

    FWIW, you (CR) are about the evidential basis for the explanation of a phenomenon, and Gerrard is about the evidential basis for the phenomenon.

    Point being, the world is as it is, and sure, if it were different, it would be different.
    And also, ‘magic’ is an essentially contested concept.

    (BTW CR, phenomena is the plural of phenomenon — cf. your #51)

  53. consciousness razor says

    Maybe I should also point out a couple of obvious things:
    (1) people have had all sorts of wacky theories about fire for many thousands of years
    (2) people have also, throughout that same time, known how to make fire
    There were many mutually incompatible ideas about it, and even if we ourselves are still fundamentally wrong, that incompatibility by itself means they can’t all have been correct.
    If you’re only thinking of it in general or in the abstract, it might sound reasonable that it should be the case, but (2) turns out not to be very strong evidence that people were on the right track about (1). You might be persuaded by thoughts like “but they make fire so reliably and so consistently, all over the world, throughout history, etc.” and yet that doesn’t really mean shit about the veracity of their theoretical claims. Because those depend on more than just something like “it works” — you don’t fail to get fire, although you might still fail to understand it. Is that difference pretty clear to you?

  54. consciousness razor says

    John, I know “phenomena” is plural. I actually debated with myself about the first sentence in #51, but I did mean there are multiple phenomena in the set showing the magic seemed to work (reliably, very well, over long periods of time, etc.), because I wasn’t really referring to a single item. However, if somebody else had written that using the singular “phenomenon,” I think I would’ve been okay with that too.

  55. PaulBC says

    cr@56

    The magical incantation to prevent water from evaporating was PaulBC’s idea from #36. I was writing to PaulBC, who may not be entirely on board with anything I said, but I was implicitly agreeing that his “magic spell” could have a naturalistic explanation which people would understandably try to find, despite his statements that it would rock his world and so forth.

    I’m not disagreeing that people could look for a naturalistic explanation. However, the occurrence would be so arbitrary (assuming if could not be reproduced without the incantation) that I at least would struggle to come up with a hypothesis that sounded reasonable. It definitely wouldn’t lead to any particular explanation, but would refute my understanding of physical laws as impersonal and uniform. I suppose it could be a coincidence that the words sounded like bad Latin. It could be a Clever Hans scenario in which I had completely misinterpreted what was going on. Though the water (assume for the sake of argument) cannot react to humans like a horse can, there might just be something else I’m inadvertently doing when I cast the “spell” that could explain it. This would seem less likely if it was repeatable by anyone under any circumstances, but only if they used the right spell words and gestures.

    Yes, it would “rock my world” in the sense of going against strong expectations and creating cognitive dissonance. I might assume I was going crazy. I might assume I was the victim of a “gaslighting” conspiracy in the strict sense of the movie: someone trying to make me think I’m crazy. I expect the universe not to behave capriciously (which is a fairly modern view). While science can encompass theories with unique and glaring exceptions, this is not what scientists usually look for. Maybe this does make me a “flat earth atheist”. I think it would more likely make me very disillusioned. Out of psychological need, I might seize onto a specific explanation with little basis to it.

    Anyway, it will not actually happen (seriously, it won’t).

  56. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To consciousness razor

    So let’s start over….

    Suppose there’s a world in which people think fire is made of fire spirits, and that by invoking the will of the fire spirits by correctly performing what they call a “fire ritual,” one could produce a fire.

    Even after I tell you that this is not the conversation that I am having or want to have, you go right back to it. ~sigh

    What I wouldn’t deny is that such people produce fire — or at any rate that they could in the right circumstances, in that world, because it’s assumed to be the case that fires exist in that world as they do in ours. (And that does mean physical fires — combustion, oxidation, and so on — just in case you’re tempted to give some other meaning to the word “fire” which might be imagined for a strange alternate reality.)

    Again, in the hypothetical, it’s more than that. It’s an accepted everyday fact by everyone else and it’s a common everyday occurrence. No one own matches anymore, or lighters, etc., because they all just use this ritual to start fires when they need to.

    However, their explanation for this set of events is something else. I would need to know specifically that their “fire ritual” doesn’t in fact use any physical method to produce said fires, in order to actually and literally rule those out. I know of no other reasonable way of coming to that type of conclusion. Do you? I don’t think you do.

    You’re so absolutely focused on a strawman of my position and arguments, even after I have said many times to the contrary. I am not having a conversation about explanations or mechanisms. I am having a different conversation.

    I am saying that the statement “science cannot or should not be used to investigate supernatural phenomena” is wrong. It’s wrong on some factual level, and it’s wrong on an ethical level too.

    It’s wrong because of course science can and should be used to investigate supernatural phenomena. Literally consider yourself as a main character of any TV show with angels, demons, faerie, etc., such as the show Lucifer, Supernatural, Game Of Thrones, or even Stargate SG-1 in the last two seasons with the Ori villains. Can you imagine how silly it would be for them to write a character who says “well, I just saw something that looked like magic – too bad I cannot investigate it with evidence because science doesn’t work on magic”. The character would be unbelievable because no real person would behave like that. Many would complain that it’s a poor strawman of an atheist, a so-called flat-Earth atheist, and they would be right, and yet you’re walking right into the proverbial punch by living this strawman, so far as I can tell.

    No – the only believable characters in such shows are characters that reason rationally about the supernatural things that they encounter, those who create tentative mental models about the supernatural things that they encounter, which inform their predictions of the future, and they regularly go back and edit and update their mental model as new evidence becomes available. For example, when the heroes of Stargate SG-1 are faced with creatures claiming to be gods, who really lack any material existence in any sense that we’re familiar with, who have the powers of telekinesis and conjuration on galaxy-wide scales through sheer force of will, who are invincible against seemingly all normal weapons, and who existence in an entirely separate spacetime that follows radically different laws of physics (as of yet unknown), what do they do? Do they give up and submit to subjugation or futilely resist? No. They did scientific research and investigation, and designed and created a weapon that was capable of harming them, and defended themselves from these aggressors.

    Think about it from the perspective of the heroes of SG-1 who are fighting these alien god-like creatures. Did they ever stop and ask “are they supernatural or natural?”. No! That’s just not an interesting question. The interesting questions are “are they real?”, and clearly so given the events of the show, and “can we fight back? and how?”, which they answer through rational, empirical, scientific investigation and exploration.

    The words “natural” and “supernatural” are almost entirely mental traps that have been created that trick you into thinking a wrong way, into thinking that a class of hypothesized phenomena, defined by fiat, should not or cannot be investigated by empirical, scientific methods. Once you look at the idea closely enough, its absurdity becomes apparent. More specifically, as soon as you steep yourself in fiction like Stargate SG-1, and really ask yourself “what would I do if I found myself in that sort of universe?”, you soon realize the mental trap that these words invite.

    Tangent: In this vein of fiction, I particularly love “The Salvation War”. It’s a story about what would really happen in Biblical Armageddon, under a small amount of “reasonable” artistic license and interpretation of the Biblical stories by the author. In short, the demons and angels invade, and because the demons and angels are stuck with bronze age technology, and only have a few flashy but unimpressive magical abilities to augment that (like breathing fire, flying, “death glares”, limited telepathy and mind-control, etc.), they get completely curb-stomped by the modern human militaries. It’s freely and legally available online from the author. If you read it, I also suggest reading the FAQ on the story from the author. Warning: It’s very heavy on war-porn and war-tech-porn, so the story is not for everyone, but the author does say elsewhere that he includes so many gruesome details to try to educate his audience that war is hell and awful and horrific, and also to characterize the demons and the humans because in the story the demons are absolutely horrified and aghast at the previously unimaginable scale and severity of the devastation that human weapons can do, and some of the demons even start calling the humans “the lords of war” (which is not a title to be proud of).

    I am also saying that this sort of intrinsic methodological naturalism is also ethically wrong because it is used to shield bad ideas from the scientific criticism that they should be subject to, which leads to a multitude of harms to society.

    PS:
    I really encourage the Skepticon video, linked above. Let me give a summary of its final forceful argument, because I’ve never seen it done anywhere else, and it seems to me to be quite novel.

    Let’s take seriously for a moment what it would really mean if the Christian god hypothesis was true. That would mean that the “first” state of the universe, of reality, was an empty void, and Yahweh found himself in this empty void. Yahweh also found that he could cause things to happen in this void (for example: create things out of the void), by “wishing” or “willing” it to be so in a particular way, just as we might “wish” or “will” for our arm to move in a particular way. This first state of the universe would be its natural state, and the fact that Yahweh could create, change, or destroy anything else in the universe through a simple act of will – that would a natural law. Our world wouldn’t be natural; it would be created, constructed, artificial. In this proper view of their theology, there simply isn’t any conceptual space for the word “supernatural” to apply. “Supernatural” in this sense cannot apply to anything in the real world, including gods, spirits, faeries, etc. It would be an empty category – empty purely according to its definition and logical deduction, and not by worldly investigation. Anything “above” or “beyond” or “prior” to the so-called natural world would be the real natural world.

    I also think another of his argument is important for others in this thread. Suppose that there was another spacetime out there, with beings very much like our own, in a universe with physics and spacetime very much like our own, who discovered a simple, materialistic way to create a pocket universe, similar to the pocket galaxy in “Men In Black”, and we are in that pocket universe. These beings in the other universe might have the ability to modify our universe in any way that they please, and be as capricious and as arbitrary as they want, and to thwart any investigation from us into them in an absolute way. Would anyone here really challenge the idea that this is a simple, material, scientific fact? No. Of course not. And yet, all you have to do is throw on the word “supernatural” or “god” or “magic”, and suddenly a great many people are falling over themselves in order to say “that’s not science” / “science doesn’t work on that sort of thing”. It’s really just a trick of language – nothing more.

    Having said that, “methodological naturalism” is useful, but it’s not an absolute prohibition, and it’s not intrinsic. Instead, the proper way to think about “methodological naturalism” is to say that we have heaps and heaps of historical data that conventional explanations of the sort of gods, spirits, souls, magic, etc., are often wrong, and never produce useful models. On that basis, we tentatively conclude that no such things exist. In other words, we tentatively conclude the truth of philosophical naturalism, aka materialism. And on that basis, we have a tentative rule that when doing science, we should spend almost all of our time exploring natural explanations and models because the prior Bayesian odds of a supernatural explanation being correct are basically 0.

    PPS:
    One of the conclusions that I still want you to take away is that gravity is magic. We don’t know what mechanism by which gravity works. It’s magic in the sense that we have absolutely no idea how it works, just like we would have, at first, absolutely no idea how a magical incantation would work. However, we know that gravity works. We know a lot about gravity because we spent a great deal of time studying it, and because we know a great deal about it, gravity no longer seems like magic. In this sense, “magic” just seems like a word of phenomena that we don’t understand yet.

    Now, maybe there’s new phenomena that doesn’t fit into our neat tidy model of conventional physics. It happened before. Famously with the quantum theory revolution of science. Beforehand, practically every scientific worldview was that of local deterministic realism, and quantum theory shot that all to hell. I think many people today don’t understand just how radical of a transformation that was. Would it really be unthinkable and unimaginable for there to be a kind of new field, a “psychic field”, which interacts locally with nearby structures that are like organic brains, which “echo” the current thoughts of creatures outwards in a local area, which other specialized equipment (or unusual brains) could detect and interpret? Here is a perfectly coherent idea of additional physics which many people would label “supernatural”, and as far as I can tell, the idea requires zero amounts of “spirits” or “gods” or “the universe is ruled by the will or intent or some invisible creatures”. The physics of the situation – and “physics” is the right word – would be the same sort of impersonal, machine-like, localized interactions that embody our notion of materialism. I particularly object to consciousness razor’s complete lack of imagination when he repeatedly asserts that the only alternative to materialism is “fire spirits”. It’s really quite frustrating.

    Of course, I am firmly convinced that no such things exists. However, I recognize that it’s important that I have the proper understanding and justification behind that belief, and it’s a belief based firmly on evidence, empiricism, and science. And I wouldn’t deny the truth of such a thing if later it was shown that such a thing does exist (e.g. I wouldn’t be a flat-Earth atheist). Once the appropriate amount of evidence would be accumulated, I would assent belief, just like I would for any other claim once I was given sufficient evidence. (Or at least, that’s what I aspire to do.)

    PPPS:
    I think PZ Myer’s encounter with Thor is also very constructive here. It’s also one of my favorite resources on this topic.
    https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/03/03/thor/

  57. John Morales says

    Gerrard the logorrheic:

    The words “natural” and “supernatural” are almost entirely mental traps that have been created that trick you into thinking a wrong way, into thinking that a class of hypothesized phenomena, defined by fiat, should not or cannot be investigated by empirical, scientific methods.

    Heh. cf. my #57.

    Consider: What if the term ‘supernatural’ meant ‘not amenable to natural explanation’?

    (Then it would be an analytical truth, no?)

  58. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To John Morales
    Sure, but then you run the risk of argument by conflation, e.g. equivocation. If that’s how you define the term “supernatural”, then it’s far from obvious whether gods, demons, angels, faeries, etc., are supernatural. You could never determine beyond all doubt that some observable phenomenon is supernatural or not, and any tentative determination that some observable phenomenon is supernatural could only be reached after exhaustive scientific investigation, and even then, someone will always continue to investigate it because of the slim but non-zero chance that it’s really not supernatural.

    In effective, you have identified the “sterile” version of “methodological naturalism”, as described by Boudry in the paper I linked to above.
    https://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism

    It’s “sterile” in the sense that this definition is basically useless, and this definition completely undercuts the rationale of advocating or even talking about “methodological naturalism”. Under this definition, “methodological naturalism” is nonsensical; nonsensical because you wouldn’t ever know that something is supernatural or not until you spent a lot of time investigating it with the methods of science.

  59. John Morales says

    Well, Gerrard, it’s both the original and etymological meaning: beyond nature.

    I note you do equate it to ‘magic’ — these days ‘paranormal’ — and thus I noted my #57. It’s the complement of ‘natural’.

    If that’s how you define the term “supernatural”, then it’s far from obvious whether gods, demons, angels, faeries, etc., are supernatural.

    Only if you take their actual, literal meanings.

  60. John Morales says

    Otiose, but can’t resist:

    Under this definition, “methodological naturalism” is nonsensical

    Nope; it’s only nonsensical when attempted to be applied to supernaturalism; it still applies to naturalism.

    Going one meta level up, one could conceive of “methodological supernaturalism”, but clearly mere naturalism would not suffice for that.

  61. consciousness razor says

    The words “natural” and “supernatural” are almost entirely mental traps that have been created that trick you into thinking a wrong way, into thinking that a class of hypothesized phenomena, defined by fiat, should not or cannot be investigated by empirical, scientific methods.

    Simply false. Whether or not they are mental traps, I do not think supernatural stuff can’t be investigated empirically. You are just inventing that out of whole cloth, if “you” above is directed to me, as your entire comment apparently is.
    In fact, I remember arguing against that very idea here, on multiple occasions, and moreover doing so with a coherent concept of “supernatural” that isn’t mentally trapping anyone into anything like that. Basically, something qualifies as such if a mental thing (or process, property, collections of such things, and so forth) is not reducible to something non-mental. That’s it. It’s not hard. It’s not complicated. It’s kind of obvious. Although it’s not like people normally go around carefully defining their terms, that is how they commonly use it, meaning that usage is supported empirically and isn’t arbitrary.
    Ghosts are a decent example, if you want specific examples. They are (formerly alive) persons with mental properties, minds, intentions, etc., and yet they are described as being non-corporeal. That’s what is meant by saying they are supernatural. The only trick anyone may pulling is when they try to convince you there are ghosts, because there aren’t any.
    For another (perhaps not so different) example, people often think there are ghosts when people die because they think living people have souls (maybe all organisms have them — do all dogs go to heaven? It’s a question. Not a great one, but a question nonethless.) That soul is the thing which is thought to continue existing after a person’s bodily death, and whatever it is, ghosts consist of that. Not a good theory or one supported by evidence, but it is an idea some people have. So souls aren’t real either, but they are a case of what is meant by “supernatural” as I somewhat loosely defined it above
    Gods are also basically more of the same shit, with different branding. They’re just bigger, badder versions of souls, which are usually said to be responsible for more important stuff (such as the whole universe) that isn’t attributed to a normal human being (whatever one thinks a normal human being is, but likely some kind of soul+body combo deal, with fries and a drink, plus tax).
    I don’t think there is any trick here, and if you find you’re not comfortable with that concept, because it seems to put you into some kind of conceptual trap which you don’t know how to escape … then I’m interested to hear about it. Maybe I can help you work your way through that, because I don’t think there is any such problem, and it’s not because I haven’t looked. I’ve heard people say there are all sorts of problems, even with only being an atheist (an experience I’m sure you’d recognize), but those aren’t really what such people make them out to be.

    I am also saying that this sort of intrinsic methodological naturalism is also ethically wrong because it is used to shield bad ideas from the scientific criticism that they should be subject to, which leads to a multitude of harms to society.

    You’ve used the term in this way more than once. I’m just a naturalist, full stop, like I’m an atheist, full stop. Or if you want it to sound a bit fancier, that’s “metaphysical naturalism,” since some do talk about naturalists in the sense of natural philosophers who lived centuries ago, so I guess there’s some use for the distinction.
    Anyway, that is different from methodological naturalism, because I’m making a straightforward claim about reality, not about our methodology (or yours or anybody’s). The claim I think is true is that there aren’t any supernatural things, which is nothing like saying that “we” should proceed by using such and such methods if “we” are to be good scientists. For one thing, I’m not a scientist, so people like me may not even be included in certain formulations. But that is also an extremely narrow and gerrymandered topic which has little to do with me, my interests or my concerns. So it’s not as if I care to be included. But the basic nature or structure of the entire world that we live in is however of broad concern. Although I’d prefer to speak only for myself, I think I can say that very comfortably.
    However, if some fictional characters take that to be irrelevant or unimportant in their fictional lives, and you believe that’s a sign of realism in such fiction … okay. Maybe I’m not a realistic fictional character. I didn’t claim to be one. All I can tell you is what I think — hopefully you can think of this as just as real as anything you see on television, if not more so. And if you can’t find a way to compare that to something familiar in sci-fi or TV Tropes or whatever it may be, then that’s your issue to sort out, not mine.

    Would anyone here really challenge the idea that this is a simple, material, scientific fact? No. Of course not. And yet, all you have to do is throw on the word “supernatural” or “god” or “magic”, and suddenly a great many people are falling over themselves in order to say “that’s not science” / “science doesn’t work on that sort of thing”. It’s really just a trick of language – nothing more.

    Well, you didn’t actually tell me whether or not there are irreducibly mental things (which don’t reduce to non-mental things). Maybe that’s what those beings in the meta-universe are like, or that’s what their meta-universe is like, or that’s somehow how they made this universe inside their own. There’s no way to tell just by what you wrote there. My point is only that if there’s a challenge to make about the purported fact that what you described is simply or purely material, then I think that’s where it would be. If what you describe is is just a natural process, in the sense I’ve been using the term, then of course that isn’t a basis for that challenge.
    Is it “scientific”? Well, that’s just a different word, I hope you realize…. There could be science about things that are immaterial/supernatural. Sure, there could be. That’s where we started, actually: we can investigate those things, either way, so you shouldn’t be conflating “material” and “scientific,” as you seem to be doing here. Maybe those were two different items in a list, and if so, fine – but I figure this is more or less what the common mistake (about “methodology”) is about. Are we on the same page there?

    Having said that, “methodological naturalism” is useful, but it’s not an absolute prohibition, and it’s not intrinsic. Instead, the proper way to think about “methodological naturalism” is to say that we have heaps and heaps of historical data that conventional explanations of the sort of gods, spirits, souls, magic, etc., are often wrong, and never produce useful models. On that basis, we tentatively conclude that no such things exist.

    No, there aren’t even appropriate methods for making any such conclusion, tenative or otherwise, and it isn’t about anything other than methods: it’s emphatically not understood to be “metaphysical” because for some people that’s a bad word. Not that I believe it, but that is a typical form of the mistake.

    One of the conclusions that I still want you to take away is that gravity is magic.

    I’m not doing that. I want you to believe gravity is chocolate pudding. Will you do that?

    In this sense, “magic” just seems like a word of phenomena that we don’t understand yet.

    A better word for that is “paranormal.” Not the same thing. Claims about UFOs might go under that umbrella, for example, but magic carries other connotations with it, which are not appropriate when fairly and accurately describing what someone means when they simply claimed there was an unidentified flying object. And we should try to use our rich and colorful language as precisely as we can, to make the most effective and accurate statements that we can.

  62. John Morales says

    Lots of terminology around. ‘Abhuman’, for one.

    (Who else here is familiar with William Hope Hodgson?)

  63. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    I do not think supernatural stuff can’t be investigated empirically.

    Then we have no disagreement, and this could have been resolved many posts earlier, if you bothered to directly answer my damn questions, instead of doing what it is that you do, which is inventing new questions to answer that are different from my questions, and seemingly being purposefully obscure.

    Well, you didn’t actually tell me whether or not there are irreducibly mental things (which don’t reduce to non-mental things).

    Yes I did. Many times in this very thread I made my position on this topic explicitly clear. Ex, post 62, “Of course, I am firmly convinced that no such things exists”. More evidence for my belief that you’re not actually properly reading what I’m writing, and instead just skimming to make a rebuttal or to make some esoteric point so you can feel good about yourself, mental-masturbation. God, sometimes you’re an obtuse troll – just like John Morales normal mode of operation.

  64. says

    @63, John Morales

    The words “natural” and “supernatural” are almost entirely mental traps that have been created that trick you into thinking a wrong way, into thinking that a class of hypothesized phenomena, defined by fiat, should not or cannot be investigated by empirical, scientific methods.

    Consider: What if the term ‘supernatural’ meant ‘not amenable to natural explanation’?

    (Then it would be an analytical truth, no?)

    …Isn’t “not amenable to natural explanation” just a convoluted way of saying “not natural”?

    “not amenable to natural explanation” = “the explanans is not natural” = The “thing” or process that explains (that is responsible for, that is the cause of) the empirically observable result is not natural.

    In that case, no, I don’t see how it would logically entail that the mere existence of such phenomenon “cannot be investigated by empirical, scientific methods”…

  65. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    PS:
    I still don’t understand the meaning and consequences of saying that a ghost is a “purely mental phenomenon and not reducible to a non-mental phenomenon”. I know this is one of your pet topics, but I want to push back on this a bit.

    You seem to think it’s obvious that a ghost is supernatural under your definition. How did you arrive at that conclusion? While it’s seemingly obvious to you, it’s not obvious to me at all.

    To me, a ghost still has a material body. I can still see it, hear it, and depending on the story, I can even touch it sometimes. So, it might not be made of normal matter, but it’s made of something. It’s clearly not nothing, and so it’s something. You seem to think that it’s important to say that this something that it’s made of is a mental substance and not reducible to non-mental substances. Why is that important? And what does it even mean? What would it mean if it were true? What would it mean if it were false? What sorts of predictions about ghosts would you make if it were true? And what sorts of predictions about ghosts would you make if it were false? I half suspect that this is borderline definitional to you, e.g. “obviously ghosts are purely mental stuff”, but again, that’s very far from obvious to me, in large part because I don’t even know what that means.

    Maybe the best way to attack this confusion of mine is for you to explain the difference between a purely mental irreducible substance, vs a natural substance.

    One problem that I have is that the only minds that I’m aware of are natural. They are the result of natural processes in our mundane, conventional-physics reality. It may that you feel that it’s “natural” and straightforward to talk about a disembodied mind that is not the result of natural processes in our mundane, conventional-physics reality, but I’ve never seen such a thing before, and thus it’s not obvious, because it’s a completely different sort of thing compared to everything that I’ve seen before. You seem to think that it’s hypothetical properties are obvious, but they’re not obvious to me, because such things don’t exist in reality. You’re taking a concrete thing from reality, and taking the name that describes it, “minds”, and then ascribing to it almost completely different properties, and then expecting me to already know what sorts of new properties that you’ve ascribed to it.

    Furthermore, in many fiction that I read, “ghosts” are not treated as purely mental substances that are irreducible to natural substances. Often, ghosts are described as being composed of natural substances. For example, in D&D, often ghosts are described as being composed of elemental negative energy from the negative energy plane, just like any other undead creature in the setting. In D&D, a ghost often doesn’t have the soul or spirit of the original dead creature, and instead it’s just a faint, imprecise copy of the original. In D&D, a ghost isn’t a purely mental phenomenon. Instead, a ghost is a reflection, an echo, of a mind, caused at the moment of death, imprinted onto the “negative energy field”. This is very similar to how our real minds are an artifact of several quantum fields, including the electron field. I hope this illustrates the conceptual difficulty that I’m having.

  66. consciousness razor says

    Gerrard:

    Then we have no disagreement, and this could have been resolved many posts earlier, if you bothered to directly answer my damn questions, instead of doing what it is that you do, which is inventing new questions to answer that are different from my questions, and seemingly being purposefully obscure.

    You’re so full of shit. Here are your questions to me, starting at #50 with our first exchange until we get to #62, which is what I’m replying to in #67 as you quoted above:
    Q1:

    Are you saying that this sort of evidence would not be enough to convince you that the magic incantation works?

    Q2a, Q2b:

    Seriously – if tomorrow someone discovered a magic incantation that worked to do exactly that, and it was published on the internet and everyone found out about it, and everyone could do it, and do it on demand, and it always worked, are you going to sit there and deny the undeniable? Are you really going to say “but you actually haven’t shown that the magic incantation works”?

    That’s it. Those are not asking whether something supernatural (using my term) can be investigated empirically. The second pair of questions were obviously loaded/presumptuous, but I did respond to them anyway.
    If you thought you asked me that, you’re mistaken.

    Yes I did. Many times in this very thread I made my position on this topic explicitly clear. Ex, post 62, “Of course, I am firmly convinced that no such things exists”. More evidence for my belief that you’re not actually properly reading what I’m writing,

    For fuck’s sake, I meant according to your scenario about the universe-creating people in the meta-universe, which I had quoted immediately before the sentence you cited and explicitly mentioned again immediately afterward, whether it is the case in that hypothetical scenario that those things are supernatural. Not whether you personally believe it correctly describes the actual world, only which exact claims about the world it is making. So that I could evaluate for myself whether it ought to be “challenged.”
    And I meant “supernatural” in my terms, not necessarily yours. That is a definition of the term which you had not used in this thread, because you were busy arguing that some other conception of it was bad, should be avoided, etc. And this is also while you’re telling me things like “gravity is magic.” So it’s at least not obvious what you might have said in your response.
    So, no amount of “properly reading what [you’re] writing” would’ve answered that question, because in fact you had not written anything that gave a coherent answer to that or even hinted at one…. Not that I think you should have done so before I had even asked the question, but it’s why I needed to ask.

  67. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    That’s it. Those are not asking whether something supernatural (using my term) can be investigated empirically.

    I’m aware. That was my intention. I specifically phrased those questions to not use any confusing or contested words, like “supernatural”. And I wanted to first know your feelings on that scenario before we dived into the quagmire of “what does ‘supernatural’ even mean?”. But no, you had to answer some other questions instead of the questions that I actually asked. Even know, you are complaining “but you asked some questions that were not the questions that I wanted to answer!”. Jesus. How many times do I have to repeat myself that I was not interested in a discussion about the proper definition of the word “supernatural”? I was rather more interested in having a discussion about the limits, if any, of scientific inquiry, and in order to better understand your position about that question, I asked a simple, direct, yes/or/no question, which you did not answer directly. I was not asking you “is this situation supernatural?”. I was asking you “is it proper to use science when confronted with these observations?” and “is it proper to conclude that there is a causative effect when confronted with these observations?”.

    For fuck’s sake, I meant according to your scenario about the universe-creating people in the meta-universe, which I had quoted immediately before the sentence you cited and explicitly mentioned again immediately afterward, whether it is the case in that hypothetical scenario that those things are supernatural.

    Ok. I didn’t think you were asking such a silly question. I really thought you were asking a broad, general question. I thought this because I was quite explicit in my hypothetical about the nature of the beings in the outer universe, what you call “meta universe”. In the original thought experiment, I wrote:

    Suppose that there was another spacetime out there, with beings very much like our own, in a universe with physics and spacetime very much like our own,

    I doesn’t get more clear than that, IMAO. So, why would you ask a question that was explicitly answered right next to the text that you were quoting? Just more failure of reading comprehension.

    And I meant “supernatural” in my terms, not necessarily yours.

    And you still don’t understand that this is why I specifically avoided the word “supernatural” when I asked the question about whether you would accept that an incantation would have a causative effect on the given amount of evidence. I avoided the word “supernatural” because I wasn’t asking how you defined the word. I was asking about your thoughts about this particular thought experiment, and I didn’t care and still don’t really care now whether you think it’s supernatural or not. An answer to that question would have answered my true curiosity which was about how you would behave when confronted with things that “look like magic”, and whether you really think that science is inapplicable for investigating the class of things that “look like magic”.

  68. consciousness razor says

    Gerrard, #71:

    To me, a ghost still has a material body. I can still see it, hear it, and depending on the story, I can even touch it sometimes.

    People say they violate the physics that describe ordinary matter (by passing through walls, disappearing and reappearing at will, etc.), since they take your assumption here to be false. They think (somewhat incoherently) that seeing it, hearing it and such just happens somehow, despite the fact that it’s immaterial, not because it is material. When I’ve pointed out this apparent inconsistency to people before, it has come as a surprise, because they didn’t realize or hadn’t connected the dots, that their sensory experiences themselves are physical processes, that the ghost would need to interact somehow with its physical environment (even if the ghost itself doesn’t reduce to physical stuff).
    I’m not claiming they’ve solved the interaction problem (re: dualism), and you can’t pretend to do it for them. I suspect there isn’t a good way to do it, and you should not bother. You can just take what they say about it for what it is, recognize that ghosts aren’t real anyway, and move on.

    So, it might not be made of normal matter, but it’s made of something. It’s clearly not nothing, and so it’s something. You seem to think that it’s important to say that this something that it’s made of is a mental substance and not reducible to non-mental substances.

    At least you make your way to the point that it isn’t about whether it’s “something” or “made of something.” Because that clearly doesn’t suffice for the specific statement that it’s “not reducible to non-mental” stuff.

    Why is that important?

    Because the claim of naturalism is that there aren’t any irreducibly mental things. It makes empirical claims about the world, which may be true or false. If there are any such things, naturalism is false. If there aren’t any, naturalism is true.
    Why are any factual claims about the world important? You could give various answers to that. Take your pick of them.
    But now, try explaining how one might empirically investigate whether there are “things which are nothing” or “things which are made of nothing” (the idea you had started with above). It’s at least not clear that ideas like this would leave the question open to empirical investigation, as opposed to the question being settled by a logical derivation from the definition itself.
    That’s a nice feature of the “irreducibly mental” concept: you can learn that it’s true or learn that it’s false, by learning stuff about the world. You don’t just get the answers handed to you from the beginning, in the very concept somebody invented for it.
    Whatever else it may be, I just want to point out that what you started with there wouldn’t seem to be very informative about the world we live in. You wouldn’t have learned much more than a new piece of terminology, if you gave us some special term for it, which you should immediately recognize couldn’t apply to any “things” or “things made of things” in the real world. Is anything like that going to be useful or important? Probably not.

    Maybe the best way to attack this confusion of mine is for you to explain the difference between a purely mental irreducible substance, vs a natural substance.

    We’re natural, and we’re made of matter. For now, let’s leave aside exactly what different theories of quantum mechanics, string theory, etc., say about material objects. Microscopically at least, it really depends, as different physicists give different answers (e.g., strings, fields, particles, GRW flashes or mass densities, parts of the wavefunction or in Everettian “branches” of that thing, nothing coherent is described but only recipes for scientists to predict results of “measurement,” and more where that came from). I don’t think it makes much difference for our specific purposes, as long as you’re not picking anything too ridiculous or something inadequate to play the role of “material object” in a serious ontology.
    Anyway, whatever confusion there may be about various other issues, our best physics doesn’t describe matter at its fundamental level as having mental properties or features. There’s talk about position, momentum, spin, mass, charge, etc. – lots of things really, which are mainly or entirely in the service of describing how matter moves. It’s somewhere and it goes somewhere else, or microscopically such things may change over time even if macroscopically it isn’t very noticeable (think of air molecules in your room, a pot of water warming or cooling, chemical reactions, etc.).
    The goal is to understand all such phenomena in the universe as best we can, write down laws for them and perhaps make some use of what we learned. Question: are there any others in the world to speak of, phenomena which can’t in principle be explained in physical terms?
    So…. We’re physical systems, who do have mental properties, and the naturalist claim about things fitting that description is that there is a reduction (in principle, if not practice) of true statements about us, which might be given in the language of some other academic field (including special sciences like psychology, sociology, etc.), to the level of physical matter, of which we are composed. The talk about “mental” stuff, which is practically speaking very useful for describing us and the things we do, doesn’t pose a genuine problem, even if at first sight it may seem to.
    If there were something that isn’t reducible, then the answer to the question about physics that I raised above is “yes, there are such things,” because it would be an example. Whether such things could nonetheless be studied empirically or scientifically is a different question. The claim, from me, is not that I assume it’s all physical or must be physical; instead, it’s that having learned some things empirically, it evidently happens to be true that everything in the world, without exception, is physical. Certain bits of physics, like conservation of momentum and so forth, are taken to apply to everything, without exception. If that’s incorrect, we’d have to revise our understanding of those bits as well, which may not be immediately obvious so I’ll mention it here.

    One problem that I have is that the only minds that I’m aware of are natural. They are the result of natural processes in our mundane, conventional-physics reality. It may that you feel that it’s “natural” and straightforward to talk about a disembodied mind that is not the result of natural processes in our mundane, conventional-physics reality, but I’ve never seen such a thing before, and thus it’s not obvious, because it’s a completely different sort of thing compared to everything that I’ve seen before.

    So you think naturalism is true. That’s not a problem. You know (or have some idea) of how to compare it to the world and check whether it’s consistent with what you observe.

    You seem to think that it’s hypothetical properties are obvious, but they’re not obvious to me, because such things don’t exist in reality. You’re taking a concrete thing from reality, and taking the name that describes it, “minds”, and then ascribing to it almost completely different properties, and then expecting me to already know what sorts of new properties that you’ve ascribed to it.

    I don’t understand what you’re talking about here. Ghosts and souls don’t exist. Minds do. Whatever we mean by a “mind” or “mental,” that’s what we mean by it, and I’m not making random exceptions to that, just to cater to somebody’s idea of an entity like a ghost. If they can give me a good reason to think that I should have some other concept (similar to physical minds, but somehow not the same), then if they’re serious about it they can propose a concept for a “ghost mind” or whatever. And then we can worry about whatever that entails, when the time comes. It’s generally just important that we’d be able to put together some kind of coherent worldview, if it happens to be true that there are such things.

  69. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Because the claim of naturalism is that there aren’t any irreducibly mental things. It makes empirical claims about the world, which may be true or false.

    That’s a nice feature of the “irreducibly mental” concept: you can learn that it’s true or learn that it’s false, by learning stuff about the world.

    I still don’t understand. I know the individual words that you’re using, and I know their individual meaning in other contexts, but I don’t understand what you mean when you put them together in this way.

    For the typical living human body, the human body has the property “has a mind”. I would not say “is a mind” or “made of a mental substance”, but I would say “has a mind”.

    For a human body, I could perform observations and experiments to see that the human body is a composite material by developing an understanding, models, for electrons, protons, and neutrons, etc., and showing that the human body is composed of these elementary particles without emergent behavior beyond the reductionistic explanation in terms of electrons, protons, and neutrons, etc. In your language, I think that means that the human body is not irreducible, and therefore it’s not supernatural.

    However, what about the electrons and quarks of the protons and neutrons? The electron field, and the several quark fields, and the other quantum fields do seem to be irreducible. Because we haven’t discovered evidence of smaller particles / fields yet, we might tentatively conclude that the quantum fields of quantum field theory are irreducible.

    Consider a stereotypical ghost that is visible, audible, and can sometimes exert physical force on mundane solid objects. Suppose I try to converse with the ghost, and the ghost converses back, and passes the Turing test. So, I can conclude that the ghost “has a mind”. Not “is a mind” or “is composed of a mental substance”, but simply “has a mind”.

    I could investigate the ghost’s body in the same way that I investigate a human body. Perhaps with a certain set of tools, I can discover that the ghost’s body is composed of many individual particles of ectoplasm, and ectoplasm exists as something like a new quantum field or many new quantum fields, in a similar manner that we have discovered that a human body is composed of electrons, neutrons, protons, etc. This means that the ghost is not “irreducible”, right?

    What if scientific inquiry into the nature of the ghost’s body is fruitless, and despite our best attempts and the seeming full cooperation of the ghost, we are unable to make any significant headway into discovering that the ghost’s body is a composite of smaller bits of stuff. I suppose we might adopt a provisional belief that the ghost is irreducible in the sense that we’re talking about here, although I might want to object to this notion later (I’m unsure). However, does this mean that the ghost’s body is a “mental substance”? What exactly do you mean here? Do you really mean something like “the thing must not be a composite of other bits of stuff, and the thing must have a mind”? Do I understand now what you mean by with the “irreducibly mental”?

    If I do understand correctly, I really doubt that this is what most people mean by “supernatural”. This definition would mean that large swathes of things which are normally thought of as supernatural are really not supernatural, including many varieties of ghosts, many varieties of magic and spells, many varieties of souls, spirits, and afterlives, and so on and so forth. This definition is definitely inconsistent with the everyday notion of “methodological naturalism”. Methodological naturalism instructs us to avoid using “ghosts” as an explanation, no matter whether the ghost is supernatural or not. Specifically, methodological naturalism says to avoid considering the possibility of an “ectoplasmic quantum field” that could support a non-supernatural ghost which is a composite of individual bits of the ectoplasmic field. Assuming that “supernatural” equivalent to “not natural”, then that means your definition of “supernatural” is definitely not the everyday meaning of “supernatural”.

  70. consciousness razor says

    However, what about the electrons and quarks of the protons and neutrons? The electron field, and the several quark fields, and the other quantum fields do seem to be irreducible. Because we haven’t discovered evidence of smaller particles / fields yet, we might tentatively conclude that the quantum fields of quantum field theory are irreducible.

    Sure, it may be the case that those are the fundamental objects, from which everything else is composed. And that is no problem, because the world may have such things and I have no reason to rule that out. But those things don’t have mental properties – they don’t in any sense that you’d be able to correctly/honestly say that humans (or perhaps other non-human animals, aliens, AIs, etc.) do have them.
    So, for instance, this is rejecting not only claims about gods or ghosts; it also applies to various flavors of panpsychism, according to which things like an electron do have (rudimentary or not very sophisticated) mental properties. As weird as it may sound when talking about an electron, that is the claim some make. But as you noted, as far as we know, it may be that electrons don’t reduce to anything else, aren’t composed of anything else, etc. — or in other words, it may be that an electron is a fundamental object.
    What do I say to that? If their claim is false, it’s false. And if I thought anything like that were true, I wouldn’t be arguing otherwise.

    I could investigate the ghost’s body in the same way that I investigate a human body. Perhaps with a certain set of tools, I can discover that the ghost’s body is composed of many individual particles of ectoplasm, and ectoplasm exists as something like a new quantum field or many new quantum fields, in a similar manner that we have discovered that a human body is composed of electrons, neutrons, protons, etc. This means that the ghost is not “irreducible”, right?

    Right.
    (P1) If there’s some exotic form of matter (or whatever) for which we currently have no evidence, and
    (P2) if it fits your description, of (a) not being irreducibly mental and (b) that is what makes ghosts whatever they are,
    (C) then this wouldn’t be a counterexample.
    If you asked me “are there things like that in reality?” then my answer is “no.” I’m not saying they’re impossible or that you can’t even imagine such cases. It just happens to be true that that there aren’t any cases.

    What if scientific inquiry into the nature of the ghost’s body is fruitless, and despite our best attempts and the seeming full cooperation of the ghost, we are unable to make any significant headway into discovering that the ghost’s body is a composite of smaller bits of stuff.

    Then that would be a sad day, for Ghost Studies departments around the world. I’m not trying to make a promise to any interested parties that that they must be able to succeed. Because I don’t know if that’s true.

    Do you really mean something like “the thing must not be a composite of other bits of stuff, and the thing must have a mind”? Do I understand now what you mean by with the “irreducibly mental”?

    More or less. Technically, some kind of entity “having a mind” isn’t strictly necessary. I’ve tried to be clear that processes, events, places, ideas, arbitrary combinations of any such things, or whatever the hell you like, can fit into this one way or another, because it’s meant to be entirely general. Some people believe in “karma,” for example, and that fits just fine, in that it’s believed to function in a way that minds do. If someone thought there were some manifestation of karma like a deity for instance, then it would sound more appropriate in English to talk about that deity “having a mind.” But that isn’t really how “karma” is understood by those who believe in it, as far as I can tell.
    You could think of “the force” in Star Wars as being vaguely similar to that – and it apparently “wants” balance in the universe or some such thing. Electrons and rocks and so forth don’t “want” things.
    You could also consider psychic powers or magical powers. I’ll use Harry Potter, for simplicity. The issue here isn’t that Harry Potter has a mind. That’s fine. He’s a (fictional) human being, and there is nothing wrong so far with humans having minds. I assume there isn’t a claim that Harry Potter isn’t composed of matter, like the non-magical humans in that same fictional world (and our real one). Instead, the issue is that his magic powers work through his will or intention, unmistakably mental concepts, or they work via whatever magical “forces” there are that he can somehow control and which are themselves somehow mental in character. (Don’t know exactly, don’t really care, haven’t read the books.) Whatever exactly is going on, that isn’t how normal people actually do any of the things they do, although believers in contracausal free will would disagree.
    Contracausal free will is yet another example, where the issue isn’t quite “the thing has a mind,” but the various ways that mental entities, properties, abilities, relations, etc., are being construed by people with views that aren’t consistent with anything like physics as we understand it.
    These kinds of distinctions don’t really make a difference in the end, so I haven’t been worrying about them, but hopefully that clarifies some things for you.

    If I do understand correctly, I really doubt that this is what most people mean by “supernatural”. This definition would mean that large swathes of things which are normally thought of as supernatural are really not supernatural, including many varieties of ghosts, many varieties of magic and spells, many varieties of souls, spirits, and afterlives, and so on and so forth.

    Like I just tried to explain, I think that’s incorrect. You’re apparently hinging this on some aspect of what I said that isn’t relevant. You’d have to go into more detail as to why you think those varieties of things wouldn’t count, but that is not for me to say. If you want to explain this objection, so I can think about it, go right ahead and explain it.

    This definition is definitely inconsistent with the everyday notion of “methodological naturalism”. Methodological naturalism instructs us to avoid using “ghosts” as an explanation, no matter whether the ghost is supernatural or not.

    I don’t care if it is inconsistent with that. In fact, I made sure in a comment above to tell you explicitly that it’s not the same thing. Are you surprised about that? Or what?

  71. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    I’ve tried to be clear that processes, events, places, ideas, arbitrary combinations of any such things, or whatever the hell you like, can fit into this one way or another, because it’s meant to be entirely general. Some people believe in “karma,” for example, and that fits just fine, in that it’s believed to function in a way that minds do. […] You could think of “the force” in Star Wars as being vaguely similar to that – and it apparently “wants” balance in the universe or some such thing. Electrons and rocks and so forth don’t “want” things.

    Ok. I’m getting closer to understanding what you’re talking about. I’m feeling a better. These examples really help.

    I still don’t like this definition because it hinges on “is the ‘mental’ object a composite object or not?” and because this property seems to be a sometimes unobservable property. I can easily imagine an opaque indestructible box that has a human-like mind, and the box actually contains a human brain hooked up to advanced scifi life support, but the box defies all attempts to investigate its internal structure. In that sort of situation, do you say that we should (tentatively) conclude that the box is supernatural because it appears to be not-composite? That would mean a whole class of conceivable objects that are actually supernatural, but the best investigations into them would always return natural. I know this sounds almost like a nefarious LaPlace’s demon thought experiment, but I don’t think so, and especially if I talk about electrons. An electron seems to be not a composite object, but there might be underlying physics where an electron is a composite object (aka reducible). It seems really weird, and intellectually dangerous, to me to base this sort of distinction based on whether it’s a composite object or not.

    Re: “methodological naturalism”.
    I still think that your definition of “supernatural” does not match common usage, and I tried to show this by appealing to “methodological naturalism”. If we interpret “methodological naturalism” under your definition of “supernatural”, then scientists should feel entirely free to pursue explanations that involve ghosts and magic, and I think that most scientists are going to reject that conclusion, and consequently they are going to reject your definition of the supernatural.

    I mean, with enough work, you might have a sufficiently clear and precise definition to be workable, but it doesn’t seem to map well onto actual usage.

    Then again, I don’t have anything better except “supernatural is a category whose membership is arbitrary, and whose current membership depends on a long historical chain of cultural accidents, with strong influences based on theology of popular religions in order to escape standard scientific scrutiny.”

    I suppose one of my central philosophical points is that there doesn’t seem to be any utility to distinguish between natural and the supernatural, and using these words is fraught with danger because so many people have such radically different beliefs regarding them, and because of the current cultural meme that “science cannot work on the supernatural”.

  72. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Sorry, just thought of a better way to put it.

    I really don’t like philosophical theories of “realism”. Fundamentally, I think it’s a philosophical error to talk about what’s “really there”, and specifically to talk about the “real fundamental nature” of an object. In particular, I don’t think it makes sense to say that we’re living in the “really real world” vs living in a simulation that perfectly models the real world. I think it doesn’t make any sense precisely because these two ideas offer the same predictions, and due to a partial strain of logical positivist in me, I say that these two ideas are both meaningless. It’s just as nonsensical as Catholics who say that transubstantiation of the cracker changes its fundamental nature to human flesh – except, of course, for every possible observable property.

    This definition of “supernatural” is explicitly in terms of an object’s fundamental nature, as opposed to its observable nature, and that’s why I really don’t like it, and why I would probably even say that the idea is unworkable and nonsensical, just like the idea that we’re living in a perfect simulation, and just like the idea that we’re not living in a perfect simulation.

    PS:
    Of course, if someone discovers a way out of the simulation, then it’s not a perfect simulation (as I’ve defined ‘perfect’ in this context), and we have an observable difference, and that’s precisely when I start caring. Otherwise, I don’t care if this is a simulation, or a dream of a dreamer, or any other nonsense untestable idea that someone can put forth.

  73. consciousness razor says

    I still don’t like this definition because it hinges on “is the ‘mental’ object a composite object or not?” and because this property seems to be a sometimes unobservable property. I can easily imagine an opaque indestructible box that has a human-like mind, and the box actually contains a human brain hooked up to advanced scifi life support, but the box defies all attempts to investigate its internal structure.

    Okay, let’s be clear: you can imagine some contrived scenario in which you made it the case that this is unobservable (to people in the scenario, not you, the contriver of the scenario, to whom such an observation is irrelevant).
    Would we ever have to deal with realistic situations where this problem arises? I don’t know, but I will concede that it’s logically possible.
    I want to reiterate that we’re talking about a metaphysical claim, concerning what’s real, not a claim of or about epistemology. This isn’t “methodological naturalism,” so what’s observable or what’s not is just a side issue. You might think it’s an important side issue, or you might not. And guess what? This also isn’t science. This is a philosophical position, certainly one that’s informed by the sciences and uses them to tell us something interesting and non-obvious about the world we live in, but it isn’t doing science.
    Also, totally independent of this whole discussion, it’s just plain true that there are things we may never know. If that fact upsets you, then you should’ve already been upset about it long before you got to thinking about this topic. There’s also nothing I or you or anyone can do that would change this fact about our situation. And no theory (or worldview or ideology or anything worth believing) should convince that it’s not true, nor do they have any effect on whether or not it’s true. They’re all in the same boat, in that respect.
    I think we may agree about at least some of that, but I think it’s worth saying anyway.

    In that sort of situation, do you say that we should (tentatively) conclude that the box is supernatural because it appears to be not-composite?

    No. Based on my experiences of never having any evidence of anything supernatural, as well as learning about tons of other people everywhere who’ve also never had evidence of it, I’m going to assign a very low probability that some unknown thing in a box is supernatural. I could be wrong, but I will place my bet now.
    The fact that I can only guess or estimate the chances, in this case, doesn’t change anything. It’s not as if failing to know about this particular thing via observation somehow transforms it into a supernatural entity. That isn’t how things work, it would be a very wacky position to have about how things work, and I do not have it.

    An electron seems to be not a composite object, but there might be underlying physics where an electron is a composite object (aka reducible). It seems really weird, and intellectually dangerous, to me to base this sort of distinction based on whether it’s a composite object or not.

    But again, electrons have no minds. Composite or not, they are in the category of “doesn’t have a mind.” Even individual grains of sand, which you can barely see and yet are made of many many atoms/molecules and are thus composite, do not have any mental properties.
    It actually takes a very large and complicated (and still not well-understood) set of conditions to obtain, before we to get something with the right kinds of features (like a brain, in people, other animals, etc.) that enable something thing to have a mind.
    So I don’t really get where your worry is coming from, but I have no worries at all that the evidence will ever point in the direction that we should accept panpsychism or something along those lines. If there’s any danger, it’s just that we might turn out to be wrong, if the evidence were ever there to back that up. There are worse things that can happen in life. And you do already take risks like this all the time, whether you realize it or not, any time you believe things.

    I still think that your definition of “supernatural” does not match common usage, and I tried to show this by appealing to “methodological naturalism”.

    That’s a very narrow issue, of concern to scientists, about how some scientists think other scientists ought to do their science. Hardly a case of common usage.
    And again, it belongs in some other category, about epistemology in science. Even that is contested, so it’s not like there’s just one thing for you to point at, to say that it disagrees with me – there are many competing formulations of it.
    On top of that, those kinds of positions are not about what’s real, as I keep pointing out, whereas metaphysical naturalism (or you could call it “physicalism” or come up with other names) is a position about what’s real.
    I’m going to be indifferent to the fact that different things say different things. I don’t follow any rule which says they ought to say the same thing, and I don’t think there’s any good reason to do so.

    I really don’t like philosophical theories of “realism”. Fundamentally, I think it’s a philosophical error to talk about what’s “really there”, and specifically to talk about the “real fundamental nature” of an object.

    Well, you probably should’ve said so and opened with that.

    I think it doesn’t make any sense precisely because these two ideas offer the same predictions, and due to a partial strain of logical positivist in me, I say that these two ideas are both meaningless.

    “Logical positivism is dead. Logical positivism remains dead. And we have killed him.”
    Look, let me just address the supposed “error” of talking about reality. Suppose there were people living in poverty.
    — That’s a claim about reality. We’re done here. [drops the mic] But okay, I’ll keep going….
    And suppose you could somehow make it so that they believed their experiences/observations are such that they aren’t in poverty. So, their epistemic situation is one that appears (to them) to be “not living in poverty.” (Do that with mind-altering drugs or machines or brain implants, propaganda campaigns, or whatever combination of fascist bullshit you think may work.) However, in reality, those people are still poverty. You’re merely ensuring that they don’t know this, probably because (in this scenario) you’re a lying scumbag who wants to remain safe from that mob and in control of it.
    Alright, a few general points:
    (1) You understand what “in reality” means here, so don’t fucking lie about it. I’m not that stupid.
    (2) You understand the difference between this situation and one where you don’t pull this crap on unsuspecting people. That is a “real” difference, and it’s not actually any fancier than that.
    (3) You couldn’t even coherently talk about different such situations, without appealing to the idea of what’s real. You do this all the time, which is not a genuine problem, so again, just be honest and upfront about it and don’t think there’s any coherent reason to pretend otherwise.
    (4) And you know that this kind of shit matters. Like, it really does seriously matter, much much more than your philosophical whining and posturing.
    (5) It’s not dangerous (or whatever the fuck you’ve been told) to think about and care about reality. Meanwhile, it’s not hard to find the dangers, in religions and fascist regimes and elsewhere, of creating a disconnect between what we say/think/do and what’s real. We’ve already got enough fucking problems with trying to figure things out, and it helps no one (except those ready/willing to exploit this situation) to create even more. So I think you should just take whatever real bits you can and make good use of them.

  74. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Did you really just argue that my objecting to realism philosophy must mean that I don’t care about the suffering of people? Just wow. Remind me not to ever have a serious philosophical conversation with you again.

  75. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Against my better judgement, let me say it one more time. I don’t understand what it means to make claims about the fundamental nature of reality. Such claims look incoherent to me, just like a Catholic who says that the fundamental nature of the cracker changes with zero change to any of its observable properties. It is this version of philosophical realism that I object to. Talking about the fundamental nature of something in this sort of context is gibberish to me. What is the observable difference between a composite object which cannot be separated by any possible tool, vs an indivisible object? None as far as I can tell. It seems to be similar to the proverbial question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin; pure incoherent drivel.

    How the fuck you went from this sort of respectable and common philosophical argument to “I must not care about human suffering” is beyond me. Are you trying to prove that you’re a bigger philosophical wanker than John Morales? Because you’re doing a very good job.

  76. John Morales says

    Gerrard:

    I don’t understand what it means to make claims about the fundamental nature of reality.

    Here’s one such claim: it exists.
    Here’s another: we’re part of it.
    Here’s another: it’s a mundane, conventional-physics reality.

    (Last one is your own claim, BTW)

  77. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    John,
    When I make a claim like “[our reality is] a mundane, conventional-physics reality”, that’s a claim about observable reality. I don’t make claims about the nature of fundamental reality – whatever that means. I don’t make claims about the nature of fundamental reality because I don’t understand what it even means to make claims that look like that. I don’t understand what it means to be true, and I don’t understand what it means to be false.

  78. John Morales says

    [bit bored, and it’s quiet, so…]

    Gerrard, are you aware that you didn’t make a claim about the nature of fundamental reality, but rather a fundamental claim about the nature of reality?

    (heh)

  79. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    WMDKitty
    A troll is not someone who posts things that you don’t like. A troll is someone like John Morales, who posts purposefully inflamatory statements for the purpose of getting an emotional, angry, reaction, because of their enjoyment of it. I do not troll. And if you want to equate my behavior in this thread with that of John Morales and consciousness razor, especially consciousness razor’s last few posts where he accuses me of not caring about human suffering, then I’ll also tell you to go fuck yourself.

  80. John Morales says

    Gerrard, I take it that, in this thread about the basis of evidence for beliefs (shall we say, ‘the evidential basis’?), you care not to proceed because of your belief about my motivation.

    Shame. It would have been nice to continue and discuss the evidential basis for your belief that “fundamental reality” is a unknowable concept.

    (Or: philosophical wanking, in your perception — at which you concede my supremacy over you)

    FWIW, for me, reality is what is, whether or not it is fully perceivable, so the “fundamental” adjective is otiose.

    PS
    CR is probably too polite to proceed, but I think it is point (5) @80 that made you imagine CR was thereby arguing that “objecting to realism philosophy must mean that I don’t care about the suffering of people”.

    (Am I wrong there?)

  81. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To John Morales
    You are a troll, and so I will keep it short. I’m also just repeating myself, so I wish you’d just read what I’ve already written. When someone talks about an object’s “fundamental nature”, I half-assume that they’re talking about something other than its observable nature. I immediately think of the Catholic who says that a consecrated cracker has its fundamental nature changed without changing its observable nature. So, with this understanding of the meaning of “fundamental nature”, which is something that is completely divorced from “observable nature”, I simply don’t understand what it means to make a claim about an object’s fundamental nature. I don’t say that an object’s fundamental nature is unknowable. I am saying that I don’t even know what you’re talking about. It’s like the “not even wrong” quote.
    https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong

    Maybe someone wants to say that you can learn about an object’s “fundamental nature” by observing its observable nature, but I still don’t know what the speaker means by “fundamental nature” as something which is distinct from its observable nature. In other words, if the speaker says that “fundamental nature” is a distinct concept from “observable nature”, then I just don’t know what they’re talking about.

  82. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    PS:
    The whole idea of an object’s “fundamental nature” reminds me a lot of Platonic ideals and other IMAO misguided philosophical thinking.

  83. John Morales says

    Gerrard,

    You are a troll, and so I will keep it short.

    Have you ever noticed how very often you impute motives to me and/or assert things about my, ahem, fundamental nature? I don’t think it’s working well for you.
    In contrast, the most I’ve ever said about you is that I admire your idealism, if not your modus of expressing it.

    When someone talks about an object’s “fundamental nature”, I half-assume that they’re talking about something other than its observable nature.

    Ctrl-F indicates it was you who introduced it, and who keeps harping about it.

    So, with this understanding of the meaning of “fundamental nature”, which is something that is completely divorced from “observable nature”, I simply don’t understand what it means to make a claim about an object’s fundamental nature.

    Let me quote you this: “Fundamentally, I think it’s a philosophical error to talk about what’s “really there”, and specifically to talk about the “real fundamental nature” of an object.”

    (By your own claim, you do not understand your own claims)

  84. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To John.
    You’re right. It’s not working well for me. Maybe I should go back to my old policy of ignoring you and/or blocking you.

  85. John Morales says

    [OT]

    I don’t think you should, Gerrard. After all, I know I would find it frustrating not to be able to respond to comments about my own comments. Anyway, that wasn’t what I meant, and I think you know it. Seems to me like you get into a lather because you imagine it’s personal for me. That’s unfortunate, and does not make me happy.

    For you, if you want, I’ll essay a moratorium on commenting about comments from you henceforth. Want me to do that?

  86. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    To WMDKitty
    Well then. Sorry for upsetting you. That was never my goal. I wish you the best.

  87. threethoughts says

    Alright I don’t care what people here think, this is the maddest thing PZ Myers has ever said.

    Lengthy attack on the idea that claims should be backed up by evidence. All so he can say: because he brushes his teeth on expert advice (I’d assume..) rather than personally gathering data, we shouldn’t need evidence of crimes in court.

    WTF, is he ill? I’m just gobsmacked.

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