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Science disenchanting the world. posted 17 October 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionScience disenchanting the world. by TakLoufer, Candidate

Forgive the lateness of this reply, but the post “grew in the telling” and, between papers for my classes and work, I have less free time than I had during the summer.

I entirely agree that the 'what-is-it-likeness' of experience is the crack of light in what otherwise seems to be a closing door.


I'd say it's more like the door is wide open. Chalmer's "Hard" problem isn't just hard, it's impossible! At least within a materialist framework. Materialist scientists and philosophers may claim that they've solved the mind-body problem (or that they will if they study the brain long enough), but the "What-is-it-like" problem isn't going to disappear.

The question, and this is something I think you and I discussed extensively some time ago, is one of what kind of inferences you can draw from that. I'm not so sure your optimism is warranted.


I suppose my perceived optimism (I actually consider myself a pessimist) is because the way I see it, in the absence of materialism (which has numerous problems), one is forced into accepting an ontology that has experience has a foundation. In fact, materialism itself is a form of "crypto-dualism" in that it inevitably lets a homunculus in through the back door.

Any theory of consciousness inevitably has "mind" as a fundamental, whether the advocates of the theory are aware of it or not.

I don't see how optimism has anything to do with it.

As far as science and theoretical knowledge goes, I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. It seems to pretty plain that no matter what set of 'theoretical virtues' you pick, there's nary an institution that can hold a candle to science. If you think, as I do, that whatever knowledge is it (somehow) involves an important public dimension, this is even more the case. I guess I need examples of something that is nonscientific and theoretical that can plausibly count as 'knowledge' (defined as something that can be reasonably distinguished from opinion).


Science is mute on matters of ontology. We can observe "objects," we can observe objects interacting with other objects. We can observe an object's behavior. We can observe that an object can be broken into smaller objects. We can measure an object's size in relation to other objects. Etc, Etc.

But, can science tell us what the object is?

Is the object intrinsically mental? Or is the objective world composed of "stuff" - What is this "stuff?"

We can measure the effects of gravity, but what is gravity?

Physics makes no attempt to explain the intrinsic nature of basic entities, but only characterizes them in terms of other entities. "What they are" is not explored. Though, science does not tell us what the units of nature are in themselves, this is usually forgotten as most scientists have accepted their own abstractions as metaphysical fact (Whitehead's "misplaced concreteness" fallacy).

Here’s a brief essay exploring the matter. [url:1nxdipg8]http://home.comcast.net/~johnrgregg/physical.htm[/url:1nxdipg8]

As far as materialism goes, I'm actually disinclined to even take that wee metaphysical step (though I get sloppy in my expression sometimes). What I'm saying is that science implies that experiences like free will, morality, and so on, are - like the experience of the moving sun - artifacts of our limited perspective. A lot of things start making a helluva lot of sense if you adopt this position.


There is a difference between "soft core" common sense and "hard core" common sense. Though it may appear that the sun goes around the earth, most primitives would have no problem accepting, or at least conceiving, that this is an optical illusion and that it is actually the other way around.

But, try to convince them that their experience is an epiphenomena and that they would have done all of their past actions the same even if they had no qualia. This would strike them as absurd (and calls into question the existence of the objective world, as the mental world would indisputably exist, but the objective world is forever unknowable).

Notice that I said conceiving. The primitive people could conceive the earth going around the sun, but they can not intelligibly conceive of their minds being irrelevant to their actions. Perhaps we, as humans, are simply not capable of understanding that we are an epiphenomena?

Which leads me to my own theory.

I feel that there is justification in the view that every unit of "matter" that can be called an individual has a parcel of experience (these units are what Hartshorne called "compound individuals"). For example, an atom is a compound individual and has its own primitive sort of experience. The sub-atomic particles that make up the atom are experienced CIs themselves, and are made up even less particles that have their even more primitive experience.

Objects such as chairs and fire hydrants do not have the unified experience that CIs enjoy, but rather are composed of separate CIs, each with has its own experience. For something like a rock to move on its own volition, each atom would have to simultaneously "decide" to move in a single direction. Because this is very unlikely to occur, we usually think of rocks as "dead."

What makes CIs different from a rock is that they are more than the sum of their parts. A rock is just an aggregated society of CIs, but a molecule is something more than that, as it has a more unified experience that is greater than the atoms that comprise it, and it exhibits properties that cannot be explained purely by the parts themselves (much the way a church can be “explained” purely by the bricks that comprise it). The CI of the brain "prehends" its neurons, which in turn prehend their molecules, then they their atoms, etc.

The hierarchy goes something like:

Sub-atomic particles -> atoms -> molecules -> macromolecules -> cells -> multi-celled animals (Humans) -> The Universe?

Each CI has increasingly more experience and (more on this later) "freedom" than the previous CI. The nature of each CI's experience is composed of a series of "occasions," which are constantly dying and becoming anew each moment of time. When you remember the past, you are "prehending" past occasions that have "perished." Experience is always a process of "becoming."

What I have just described is Whitehead 101, but my theory adds on to this a bit.

As I have mentioned earlier, I hold the position that parapsychology has gotten a raw deal. This is probably largely deserved, as, regardless of the legitimacy of psi phenomena, its very nature would inevitably attract all sorts of crack-pots, frauds, and snake oil salesmen. This factor has done much to hurt the field's credibility and so very few intellectuals are familiar with the evidence (or, worse yet, they are familiar only with the straw men versions perpetuated by organizations such as CSICOP) [1]. In any event, experiments such as the ganzfeld suggest that psi phenomena may "unconsciously"[2] occur all the time, though our conscious mind filters all of this out in everyday waking life. This is further supported by (the admitingly controversial) research with trance-mediumship that was so popular in the late 19th and early 20th century [3]. Before being able to allegedly create psi phenomena (or, as some thought, communicate with deceased personalities), the mediums usually went into a deep trance. Presumably, this was to put their minds in a less "filtered" state.

It can be argued that these ESP and mediumship experiments involve the subject "tuning in" to something within their mind.

This "tuning in" also seems to not be hindered (or at least not hindered as much) by obstacles such as space or time.

My theory is that at a certain level of consciousness there is a "white noise" zone where the mind is being affected by, at least some degree, all other occasions of experience in the universe, past and present.

Different occasions have varying degrees of "immediacy." For example, the computer monitor in front of me and the thoughts concerning this paper are of a greater immediacy than my memory of what I had for dinner. My memory of dinner is of a greater immediacy than some long forgotten childhood event.

To put psi into the picture, past occasions from my childhood are of a greater immediacy than, say, the past occasions of some Chinese peasant from the 15th century. None-the-less, these past occasions (from outside my life) do have a direct influence on my psyche; however, this effect is so muted as to be, under most circumstances, undetectable and "mixed in" with the mental static from all other occasions in the universe.

The "past life" memories from Ian Stevenson's research and regression therapy may be the prehension of past occasions belonging to people long dead.

If my theory is correct, each of our own compound individuals is the universe "writ small," with certain occasions having more immediacy than others. In theory (but almost certainly not in practice) we should be able to, in some fashion, "call-up" past occasions and "remember" them with greater immediacy.

In an odd sort of way this theory allows for a sort of survival of death. While I feel that the personality ends at death, as this appears to be reliant on the brain (which is, in the absence of a CI, an aggregated society of experienced neurons), the "I" is eternal, and we are "reincarnated" into everything. A CI living hundreds of years from now will “carry with him/her/it” all past occasions of me, you, and everyone else who ever lived, though this will not consciously remembered, except on rare occasions.

This notion of "survival" is not a new idea, and is not even contingent on my theory or the existence psi phenomena. Here's an article by a materialist that elaborates:

[url:1nxdipg8]http://www.naturalism.org/death.htm[/url:1nxdipg8]

Now, as for free will, I think there two directions my theory can go:

1) At every occasion, a CI's act will be completely determined by past memories, current sensations, cognitive ability, and the "mental static" of the universe. Basically, the passing thought of a Chinese peasant in the 15th century will have some bearing on what I decide to do in the next moment. In a way, this is sort of like epiphenomenalism, except rather than attaching semantics and intention to intrinsically meaningless matter interactions (which is one-sided dualism), the causation originates from the actual concepts and sensations themselves.

For example: I walk into the kitchen and make a sandwich.

Why did I do this?

In an epiphenomenal materialist theory, this can be completely explained by references to spatial-temporal interactions between certain objects moving along a casually closed path, like so many billiard balls. The concept of "hunger" doesn't logically entail from the system. There may be some impotent ghost piggy-backing on the system that might have some sort of sensation that involves a desire for food, but this is functionally irrelevant because (according to the materialists) the brain (and, by extension, the rest of the universe) is fully pre-determined, lacking intrinsic meaning or purpose. And, as Searle has shown, these vacuous entities can't have syntax of semantics unless some outside observer attributes them to the objects[4]; and this is something materialist can't allow. Any experience simply is not part of the system, and is thus left unexplained.

In my theory, the cause of the sandwich making is hunger. Or, more precisely: A lack of nutrients in my body causes a signal to be sent to certain neuronal fibers in my brain. This causes my neurons, being compound individuals, to prehend a primitive occasion of experience that, I suppose, can be roughly translated as "Bad Feeling". These "Bad Feelings" among the number of neurons are collectively prehended by the unifying agent that is the compound individual of the brain (or, myself). The CI that is I feels the many "Bads" as the more advanced experience of hunger. I, using my cognitive ability and my memory of prior experiences, correctly conclude that in order to alleviate this unpleasant sensation, I should use my ability of locomotion to travel to the kitchen and put my skills at food preparation to use by constructing an edible substance to consume. Of course, the occasions of lesser immediacy have their influence, but forgotten childhood traumas and 15th century peasants are mostly irrelevant to my hunger, so the hunger "wins".

This is not really freedom as commonly understood, as all actions and thoughts have "reasons" behind them. If I were to decide to not eat, there would certainly be a reason for this, whether I was aware of it or not.

Basically, the “Darkness that comes Before” is all occasions of experience, past, present, and (?) future.

2) The other direction my theory can go is to postulate that, because the universe is not fully determined and is, in fact, indeterminate (as quantum theory seems to suggest) than perhaps free will as commonly understood is, at some level, possible. Griffin, Whitehead, and Hartshorne seem to have the idea that, at the sub-atomic level, "volition" exists among the particles. A very primitive volition, to be sure, but the randomness can be viewed as the exercise of basic freedom. As one moves up the hierarchy of compound individuals, the freedom of the lesser CI are harnessed by the superiors and are thus allow greater freedom for the higher CIs. For example: A molecule has more "free will" than an atom, a multi-celled organism has more freedom than one of its cells, etc.

This may be the case, but I personally lean more towards the first choice which, while it makes our actions "determined," the decisions and experience are not epiphenomenal. On the contrary, it is the experience of the individuals themselves (whether at the level of electrons or humans) that are the causes. Most people would have no problem with realizing that they eat because they are hungry (and if they choose not to eat, there is a reason for this), but they would certainly have a problem with the notion that that they would go and make a sandwich is irrelevant to whether they are hungry or not.

Which is probably why I can't see my way out of it - despite my training as a 'continental philosopher'! Not even accounts as pragmatically ingenious as Dennett's seem to even touch it.

BTW. Have you had a chance to check out The Illusion of the Conscious Will, yet? I hear it's quite terrifying.


Nope, but I am aware of some of the arguments in favor of this (namely, Libet's experiments [5] and determinism in general). I have no doubt that there are "unconscious" factors that occur before we make a decision. But the unconscious mental factors (or, factors that have less immediacy) are just a part of the "I" as our more immediate experiences (that may "drown out" the "unconscious" experiences).

I find epiphenomenalism (and reductionism and materialism in general) terrifying, not because I believe it's true and that my subjectivity is nothing but an impotent "magic spray" on blind processes, but rather because I fear the toll this dogmatic scientism is going to have on our society. As of now, most people are largely unaware of the more frightening theories that are being passed around. But if Russell’s "accidental collocation of atoms" and Crick's "nothing but a pack of neurons," concepts become commonly believed by most people . . . this would prove disastrous. The effects are already occurring: people with mental disorders or traumas are simply fed medication as "cures" for malfunctioning brains (which in some cases, strikes me as “chemical lobotomies”). More and more "teenage atheists" [6] are popping up (hell, I was one of them) who take for granted that they're "nothing but" blind processes. I'm not saying materialists are intrinsically amoral, and I'm not saying people (should) follow morals out of fear of some anthropomorphic god, but rather that people are moral because they feel concepts such as good and evil are somehow "real," in a Platonic sense, where as in materialism, such concepts are merely conditioning from sensory stimuli, and we are deluded into thinking they are something more.

I predict two outcomes from this:

1) "The masses" will get wind of how far down the rabbit hole goes, and widespread nihilism will result due to the masses feeling that science has "stolen their souls".

2) "The masses" will be terrified by the implications and will "revolt" from science, and religious fundamentalism will become more widespread.

Neither result is something I look forward to.

-Tak

Notes:

[1] I suggest that anyone curious about parapsychology read:

The Conscious Universe by Dean Radin

Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence by Etzel Cardena, Steven Jay Lynn, Stanley C. Krippner and Steven J. Lynn

ESP and Psychokinesis: A Philosophical Examination and The Limits of Influence by Stephen E. Braude

Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Examination by David Ray Griffin

[url:1nxdipg8]http://blavatskyarchives.com/zeteticism.htm[/url:1nxdipg8], [url:1nxdipg8]http://www.parapsych.org/full_papers.html[/url:1nxdipg8] - Here are some good sites that cover pro and con articles on various topics.

[2] I dislike the term "unconscious" because it implies that the workings of the mind that we are not actively aware of are somehow "blind" or "dead," much the way we think of rocks or automations. Despite the fact that we generally are unaware of these factors of our mind, our "unconscious" behavior implies intent. For example: someone who is unconsciously self-loathing will "unconsciously" undermine their own efforts, sometimes in subtle ways. This implies intention and goal oriented behavior that would be difficult to attribute to "blind" or intrinsically null forces, despite that the self-loather is, at best, dimly aware of any negative feeling towards themselves. On the other hand, some behavior does seem blind, such as "blindly" or automatically driving to a wrong location out of habit (such as driving to work when you meant to drive to a friends house), or a martial artist who reacts to an attack without thinking. However, these seem more like "programmed" behavior that has no real intent behind it and may be attributed to a series of advanced reflexes or conditioning. Also, evidence from parapsychology seems to indicate intention from the unconscious mind.

[3] Contrary to popular stereotypes, early "psychical research" was not comprised totally of incompetents and frauds (though these certainly did exist). Eminent thinkers such as William James, Frederic W. H. Myers, Oliver Lodge, and Richard Hodgson were some of the more prominent pioneers in the field.

[4] Basically, in the absence of an observer, the matter interactions “are what they are,” which is, bits of “stuff” hitting each other.

[5] Oddly enough, Radin and Bierman both conducted similar experiments that suggest precognition. [url:1nxdipg8]http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/pdfs/presentiment.pdf[/url:1nxdipg8] and [url:1nxdipg8]http://www.boundaryinstitute.org/articles/presentiment99.pdf[/url:1nxdipg8].

[6] Not that I'm a friend to the religious perspective, either. view post


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