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Science disenchanting the world. posted 21 October 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionScience disenchanting the world. by TakLoufer, Candidate

Ok, this message is long, but then again, I am replying to four different posts.

---Grantaire's message---

First, in relation to your own theory, I would like to mention Ockham's Razor. What is simpler, materialism or your theory of compound individuals with their own histories creating "life".

Which is simpler: Newtonian physics or quantum physics?

The point of Occam's Razor is that, given two theories with equal explanatory power, one should choose the theory with the least amount of entities. Basically, one should get rid of all unnecessary entities.

Quantum physics is more complex than Newtonian physics, but quantum physics also has greater explanatory power.

Materialism, given its ontological limitations (it's basically a decapitated dualism), is incapable of explaining consciousness without appealing to an invisible homunculus, which is simply not allowed under materialism.

Whiteheadian Panexperientalism (true or not) has more explanatory power than any materialist theory of consciousness; primarily because Whiteheadianism actually allows a place for the subjective. In materialism, the theories may bring to light correlations of consciousness and brain states, but these brain states, as defined by the tenets of materialism (blind, objective processes) - the consciousness is just something that "happens." The qualia, the "binding" problem, and "aboutness" of intention are reduced to a functionally unnecessary and unexplained epiphenomena. In all materialistic theories of consciousness, the explanations do not logically entail a "what is it likeness" to the system. Any attribution of intention to the system remains observer-relative, something "tacked on" from the outside.

Because of this, I consider materialism to be dualism in denial.

My theory may be complex, and at prima facie appear improbable; but, surely one can't mean "This theory is improbable, as opposed to materialism."

About what you say about science against ontology though, it is perhaps irrelevant-

Well, irrelevant within the field of science.

the atom is the smallest object with the properties that we recognize as belonging to any certain type of object. Even that is slightly past the simple infinitesimally small sphere it was originally conceived as. Over time, our perception of "atoms" grew to recognizing it being composed of neutrons, protons, and electrons. In time, we discovered properties of these, and we discovered that they are composed of quarks, and that there are many other subatomic particles out there. But what they are is inherently irrelevant. With even today's best technology, the best image we have been able to get of atoms is a fuzzy sphere. By our current understanding of physics, there is no way to obtain a better image. Sure, we can create our models, hypothesize about what composes an atom, and all of that. But never can we see past a rough image of an atom.

So what does this mean? It means that what the most fundamental particles actually are is, and will always be impossible to know. We think of everything in terms of what we understand and experience. Such an abstract concept is already difficult enough for humans to accept, because it is counterintuitive enough. But given that quarks and other particles are at an even more fundamental level than atoms (the smallest object with still recognizable properties to us), how can we define what they "are"?

Although, to be more precise, it's not that particles are even strictly what we would term "matter". Modern physics has given us many things to consider on the subatomic level, but wave/particle duality, string theory, and some parts of quantum physics are particularly telling. These totally counterintuitive theories (and hypotheses, at least in the case of string theory) give us new insight into our understanding of the subatomic world, and we cannot take these fundamental particles to be simply infinitely small spheres that are composed of something. Sometimes they behave like waves, sometimes they affect the behavior of a particle far away, and perhaps they are even impossibly small strings or branes. The simple fact is, we can't look at the simplest units of matter and say "what are these made of?" because while at the purest level they are simply energy, they are simply too abstract to think of in our macromolecular terms.

This brings up an interesting point. At the smallest levels, what we know of as "matter" becomes less traditionally "matter-like" and more abstract. I mean, if it's a wave, what is it a wave of?

If matter is energy . . . well, what the hell does that even mean? Energy is defined as movement, but how can matter be reduced to movement? Movement of what? Something is missing from the current picture, and I have doubts that we are capable of fully understanding it.

Do you get what I'm saying? I don't know how much of a physics person you are, and I don't totally understand all of this, but I think that it's not only irrelevant, but impossible to discuss metaphysics at such a fundamental level of reality.

I've studied quantum physics, and it has given me almost as big a headache as consciousness has. I mean, the Aspect experiments suggest a holistic interpretation of the universe, which is difficult to imagine (though it makes sense, in a way). And Wheeler's delayed choice experiment has left me just plain confused.

I realize I commonly use the term "billiard balls" when referring to materialism, and I hope I haven't led anyone to believe that my current vision of matter is stuck in the 19th century; I use this term to refer to all the vacuous entities of materialism , which includes the "non-billiard ball-like" substances found in the sub-atomic world. In any event, by "billiard ball," I mean that the substance has no "what-is-it-like" about it; it only has an "outside." In materialism, the sub-atomic entities supposedly lack experience as much as their more traditionally "solid" counter-parts.

In any case, even though they are outside the domain of science, the metaphysics are important. We may have the collected observations and accurate theories of observed and repeatable phenomena, but the "what-is-it?" of the observed phenomena is certainly not irrelevant when discussing the ontology of the world. Is the observed phenomena intrinsically mental? Or does the phenomena originate from vacuous entities out in a spatial-temporal void? Science can't answer these questions, no matter how many experiments and observations are made. However, the questions, though ultimately speculation, are vital when confronting the world-knot of consciousness. Despite Scott's assertion that "the picture is slowly coming into functional focus," science is no closer to explaining consciousness than it was in Descartes' time. We have mental-physical correlations, but this is hardly an explanation.

Scott is right when he says science is the "only game in town" when it comes to accurate predictions of the world (recording and predicting observed phenomena), but the metaphysical concerns (the "who's casting the shadows?" questions) are simply beyond science. [More on this later]

[quote:2rq1fn4u]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.

Yes, this is the interesting thing. Indeed, I am somewhat one of those "teenage athiests" you speak of, though I would say that I'm more of an agnostic. However, I think there are several limiting factors that you are overlooking.

First: most people simply don't care. Many people don't give a damn about philosophy, science, literature and many of the other things we talk about here. Since philosophy, by its nature relying on language to convey what it means, can never sound totally definitive, I don't think the masses will ever really appreciate or care what conclusions philosophers ever come up with.

Second: not only beyond the simple fact of apathy, many people simply aren't intelligent enough to understand. Not an intended insult towards them, but many people really would not be capable of understanding the philosophy behind the dogmatism you describe. Those who are, are either capable of taking the implications, or else are intelligent enough to fall into a sort of nihilism that isn't really true despair.

Really, the masses just aren't intelligent enough, and are too apathetic to realize "how far down the rabbit hole goes," and although I wish people did care more about things like philosophy and science, I think too that perhaps it is better that people who cannot take the implications not be exposed to the ideas that are not only extremely abstract, but very disturbing.Back to top[/quote:2rq1fn4u]

Now that I have thought about it, I agree with you on this; I have met few people who are even aware that there is a mind-body problem. However, I still think that this will definitely have a negative effect on the field of psychiatry and the treatment of mental disorders. As doctors treat mental patients less like autonomous individuals and more like machines, this may have a trickle down effect on the masses. We're already at the point where the diagnosis are usually: "Your fixation on your mother is due to a malfunctioning brain, you need more drugs." or "You son's disobedient behavior is due to a defective brain, he will require two of these pills each day for behavioral correction."

---Scott's message---

I'm going to start calling you the 'mad panpsychist,' Tak!

When I have enough posts under my belt, I'll be sure to make that my title. <!-- s;) --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- s;) -->

Just a few points: given the successes of functional explanation elsewhere, I find it hard to view the intransigence of 'what-it-is-likeness' with your optimism.

I'm "optimistic" because there is no way for a functional (or any materialistic theory) model of consciousness to bridge the "unbridgeable gap" of experience. As I said in an earlier post, even if scientists could completely map out the processes of the brain to the minutest detail, they would still be clueless as to how experience enters the picture. It'd still be something that "just happens." This is because experience is fundamentally distinct from normal "objective" problems in that, at best, we can find correlates of consciousness, but these correlates would have no explanatory value. Something is missing from the current world picture.

As far as metaphysical questions like 'What is X fundamentally?' goes, you do realize your answer, 'mental experience,' not only explains very little (since we don't have a blasted clue as to what experience is),

Well, we know that we can't get from "there" (ontologically "objective" processes) to "here" (subjective experience) without something to bridge the gap. And I argue that this bridge will, even if it is ultimately incomprehensible to us, have "experience" as a fundamental. [More on this later]

Also, while we may not be able to define what "experience" or determine how it can be doesn't discredit it as a possible foundation; as all metaphysics start with some reality or set of realities that are assumed to be fundamental - materialism included.

it also seems to overlook the myriad of ways in which experience is deceptive. We don't experience holes near the centre of our field of vision, though we have them. We're susceptible to a countless number of perceptual distortions and illusions.

So what? Patients of a "split-brain" operation experience (to a degree) split consciousness, most animals can't recognize themselves in a mirror, and victims of Alzheimer’s experience disinigrating cognitive ability. All this shows is that consciousness is indisputably tied to the brain, but I'm not disputing that. Just because consciousness is correlated with brain processes does not explain how the interactions of vacuous entities can bring about the "sensation of seeing red" without either allowing a homunculus or placing experience at a fundamental level. Deceptive or no, experience still indisputably exists.

Experience has a veridical component.

This doesn't support materialism anymore than it refutes idealism. If life is a dream, it is obviously a very consistent one.

Not only that, there's the question of intentionality: experiences are about things that, experience tells us, transcend those experiences. I have experiences of trees, not experiences of 'tree-experiences.' Whatever 'experience' is, it seems clear that it's inherently relational.

I'm not disputing this either. There is a "world" beyond my mind, but the ontological status of the world is unknown. I argue that it must, at some level, have experience as a fundamental because, if the world does not have experience as a fundamental, than a homunculus is assumed (even if a theory of consciousness denies this, it still unintentionally implies one).

I could go on and on, and I'm sure you could cook up a thousand answers, to which I could cook up a thousand more, and so on, and so on, and so on.

I was thinking about this. It seems, ultimately, that philosophical debates, while they are useful as a "trial by fire" for new ideas and for bouncing concepts around, the participates rarely seem to change their views to agree with their opponent. Also, the debates seem to gradually degenerate into the opposing sides simply repeating their arguments ad nauseam. Others (on Usenet, especially) become outright flame wars. I don't know why this is (and this phenomena is certainly not limited to discussions of the mind-body problem); but this leads me to attempt to clarify on what exact points we disagree on. I will try to do this by going through your position, or at least going through what I think is your position.

In earlier posts, you indicate that you recognize that there are serious problems with modern theories of consciousness. Your solution is that there must be "something more," you also mentioned a "blind brain" hypothesis in which we are cognitively incapable of understanding how consciousness or intention can arise in the brain. But you also seem to think that, if we did understand everything, consciousness and intention would be "explained away." Also, you seem to argue that, whatever this unknowable factor is, it doesn't necessarily have to have experience (or "proto-experience") as a fundamental. Unless I have misunderstood you, your argument is that "materialism" (see footnote [2]), in a form extended beyond our capacity for understanding, can account for experience.

While this process may be something we cannot comprehend, we can still determine what would be required for it to explain experience. First, we must decide that the "Unknowable Factor" must account for the "what-is-it-like" that we currently can't explain. If the UF cannot do this, it is simply not an explanation. Second, if the UF that lies "behind the scenes" of our observed world still follows the tenets of materialism as defined by [2], then, regardless of how esoteric or mind-bogglingly complex the UF is, it still suffers from the same deficiency of everyday materialism - consciousness is still a "just so" event that can't be explained and explains nothing.

One can argue that the UF is different from materialism, yet still does not have experience as a fundamental. Presumably, this difference from everyday materialism is supposed to account for our experience, but even with this difference, the UF would still be materialism (or physicalism), except with added dimensions or strange, unobservable substances, or whatever. If the units of existence lack experience, it doesn't matter if we can conceive of them or not. To state that the interactions of the vacuous units creates consciousness is to merely state a brute metaphysical fact that does not logically entail from the system. It is "just so." To add a materialistic UF to the mix just pushes the question back a level. As ontologies go, the units of existence can have a "something-it-is-like" intrinsic to them, or the units do not (vacuous). This is an either/or factor, there is no in between. One can argue that the units may be vacuous, except on special occasions (like, for example, when the units form brains), but this still becomes a metaphysical "just so" and requires an invisible homunculus to wait on the sidelines.

I suppose one can just assert that we're simply too dumb to see how consciousness can arise from materialistic properties (UF or not), but the more one examines the mind body problem, the more transparently obvious is becomes that experience is merely correlative to physical processes (thus lacking explanatory power), and the more we realize that we are missing a piece of the puzzle. Merely adding UFs (that are still limited by [2]) onto the ontology doesn't help.

To assert that [2] can explain experience (without ontological add-ons), but we just can't know how, carries as much justification as the assertment that 6 x 9 really equals 42, but our limited minds are incapable of understanding why.

Materialism, as defined by [2], lacks the metaphysical tools needed to produce experience. Blind brains aren't going to change this, unless the UF somehow strays from materialism's definition.

So, it appears the only point we seem to disagree with is whether experience needs to be (in whatever fashion) a fundamental characteristic of nature. Other than that, I generally agree with most of what you say.

But then, this is just my point. Metaphysics is interesting, worthy of exploration, but given that no metaphysician has ever produced a claim capable of commanding consensus, I'm not sure what warrants specific commitments to this or that metaphysical thesis.

And this just brings us back to the only institution that has had any kind of luck with theoretical truth-claims: science. You still haven't given me an example of an alternate institution that has anything remotely approaching the track record of science when it comes to producing theoretical truth-claims.

Metaphysics is not in the business of producing claims that command consensus. That's science's job. Metaphysics goes beyond scientific observations such as "the sky is blue" or "Gravity has effect X on object Y." Metaphysics is in the business of what the claims of science actually mean. Is the observed phenomena have intrinsically mental properties? What is space? What is matter? Etc.

Science only deals with the recording and prediction of observed phenomena. Metaphysics is outside this (though some metaphysics, such as Cartesian dualism, seem less likely in light of observed phenomena.)

I do see what you’re getting at, and observed phenomena can discredit some metaphysics.

For example: irrealism –

1) I propose that nothing exists (not even ideas).

2) I make the “scientific observation” of opening my eyes and observing phenomena.

3) The phenomena are, at least, ideas in my (?) mind.

Conclusion: things exist, irrealism is false.

But when it comes to idealism versus realism, science is not very useful because the “stuff,” while it indisputably exists, can be composed of “mental” properties (like the “stuff” in dreams), vacuous actualities, or a combination. Science can’t make this distinction. And, in any case, I don’t feel the current view of matter is justified anyway. [more on this later]

Stephen, I think, mentioned that these matters simply boiled down to whatever perspectives our interests lead us to take. This is the kind of levelling statement that many philosophers and laypeople are wont to make - hell, I used to make similar claims myself. But again, this is a philosophical claim, and as such, no matter how much it serves our self-interest to relativize scientific claims, it suffers the same credibility crisis all philosophical statements suffer.

This mistake is rife in academic philosophy. People commit to philosophical claims such as 'science is one language-game among many,' or 'science is an ontic enterprise incapable of examining its ontological foundations,' and then use this commitment to condition their commitment to every scientific claim they then encounter. They use a philosophical commitment to determine their scientific commitments! This is a nifty trick, until you consider the cognitive track record of the two institutions in question. If commitment is supposed to be a function of warrant, then this akin to making a deaf person presiding judge over American Idol.

I don't use philosophy to determine scientific commitments. Or, more clearly, I don't ignore scientific observations in order to protect a favored metaphysic (my dad does this, however, as he is a Creationist). Also, I try not to mix up science with metaphysics. Science is not intrinsically materialistic, nor is it intrinsically dedicated to any metaphysic. True, the vast majority of scientists may be materialists, but this is more due to social and academic politics (after all, idealists and dualists aren't terribly respected) than for empirical reasons. The materialistic concept of matter seems to be the result of scientists confusing the abstractions (vacuous balls of "stuff") of their theories and formulas with the "real thing" (mistaking the "map for the territory," so to speak). The "real thing" is something that can only be perceived indirectly, but scientists have largely assumed that their abstractions account for the complete nature of matter. Additionally, Griffin has argued that:

A third reason [we should be suspicious of vacuous actualities] is the recognition, recently emphasized by historians of science, that the 'mechanical philosophy of nature', according to which the units of nature are wholly devoid of experience, spontaneity, and the capacity for influence at a distance, was adopted in the seventeenth century less for empirical than for theological-sociological reasons, such as defending the existence of a supernatural deity, the reality of supernatural miracles, and the immortality of the soul (Easlea, 1980, pp. 100-15, 125-38, 233-35; Klaaren, pp. 93-9, 173-7). For example, this idea of nature's elementary units, according to which they were wholly inert and (in Newton's words) 'massy, hard, and impenetrable', proved (to the satisfaction of Boyle, Newton, and their followers) that motion and the mathematical laws of motion had to have been impressed upon these particles at the beginning of the world by an external creator. The fact that this strategy eventually backfired, as this idea of matter eventually led to an atheistic, materialistic worldview, has long obscured the original theological motives. (Griffin [3])

Personally, I have no idea 'what science is really.' All I know, is that it seems to be the only game in town when it comes to generating reliable theoretical truth claims.

Well, science is the process of recording and predicting observed phenomena. Scientists may attach metaphysical theories to the observations, but the observed phenomena doesn't interpret itself.

---Scott's 2nd message---

The best way to understand the 'disenchantment of the world,' I've suggested, is as a gradual process whereby intentional explanations provided by tradition and philosophy are gradually replaced by the functional explanations provided by science - something which results in the 'scientific worldview.' Until recently, this substitution had resulted in what might be called the 'disenchantment of the world minus us.' Because the complexity of the brain defeated the scientific tools and techniques that make functional explanations possible, we were like a 'wildlife preserve.' We are only now witnessing the breakdown of that intentional preserve - the practical possibility of a thoroughgoing functional self-understanding - and as of yet, we don't know how things will ultimately play out.

Well, I can tell you right now that even after we are able to map out the brain's process in their entirety, and even if the brains processes can be completely explained in terms of “mechanical” causation, we still aren't going to have a clue why experience should occur. Within materialism, it will always just be "just so" - a matter of brute metaphysical fact.

Your question, Larry, brings us to this point. What we know to be the case is that what we call 'experience,' depends on the function of the brain. What we don't as of yet know is how all the particularities of that experience - especially things like intentionality and normativity (which are found nowhere outside of experience) - arise from the particularities of our neural machinery. But the picture is slowly coming into functional focus.

No it's not. We're not going to be able to explain consciousness, nor intention, nor the illusion (if it is such) of free will, through neurology or by any other observation of objective processes.

Consider your 'experience of willing' (EoW), for instance. It turns out that we are very easily fooled into thinking that we will actions that we don't. It turns out that our EoW is inferential - something that we learn - rather than intrinsic to the things we in fact do. It turns out, in other words, that our EoW follows from our actions, rather than, as we like to assume, initiating them. It turns out, in other words, that our EoW is a cognitive illusion.

So how are these claims applicable to your life? In innumerable ways, and few of them pretty: everything you've done, every act you've been blamed or have taken credit for, you have experienced after the fact as something 'you control.'

I agree that the everyday "conscious" mind is not in control like most people think. However, I don't think the logic of:

"Each molecule blindly runs. The human body is a collection of molecules. Therefore, the human body blindly runs, and therefore there can be no individual responsibility for the action of the body"(Whitehead [4])

is quite accurate either.

As I said in my last post, I think the causes of our actions are mental in nature, and, for the most part, "hidden" from us, or at least drowned out by our waking mind. We are autonomous, in that we do make decisions, but these decisions have reasons/causes behind them.

Also, I will like to add, I feel that we, as human beings, have a better realization of our "causes" than, say, a cat or dog does. I'm not sure how this has any effect on our "freedom," but it does show that our waking mind is more "awake" than lower animals.

This simply underscores the nihilistic dilemma I've been harping about all along. If you, like me, suspend commitment to all but the most robust truth-claims - namely those belonging to the same family that makes miracles like this computer possible - then the most basic, straighforward inferences lead you to unintelligible madness.

Even if epiphenomenalism (as understood by materialism) turns out to be true (and I think there are good reasons to think that this is not so), experience will still be a big bugbear on science. The "then a miracle occurs" will still plague the theory.

The most powerful instrument of discovery in the history of humanity - bar none! - suggests that everything you do and everything that matters to you is an illusion - and here's the kicker, including the very norms that make this argument stick.

All the more reason to think that something must seriously be wrong with the theory. I mean, if what you think is true, you typing this message is not contingent on you having thoughts about consciousness! Isn't that odd? Sure, one could argue that the brain states just "are" the thoughts and intention, but that doesn't mesh well with materialism and is another "just so-ism."

Allowing experience to be intrinsic to reality will solve some of these absurdities.

---Stephen's message---

Let me suggest this: What if the EoW and the actions to which it is related cannot be separated? What if we decide to treat them philosophically as one self-initiating entity? To say that the EoW 'initiates an action' is thus to make a distinction as meaningless as which blade of a pair of scissors is 'really' doing the cutting: the EoW and the action are one experience, one entity, as entangled as two quantum-identical atoms.

Depending on the specifics, this could be anything from identity theory to property dualism to functionalism to panpsychism. To say that a brain state just "is" an EoW suffers from many obvious problems (does the EoW logically entail from the brain state? Why?), at least within materialism.

If quantum entanglement asserts as possible (and has proven in recent experiments) that information can be instantaneously teleported without degradation, and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle remains in effect, then the entirey of existence is a form of cognitive illusion -- in which case the EoW is no less 'real' than anything else we experience.

Well, quantum entanglement seems to suggest a holistic universe, or at least a universe where the parts are somehow interconnected, which makes sense if you think about it.

Even an illusion is real if it exists as an experience,

Bingo. If consciousness is an illusion, who is the victim of this deception, and how? This is like eliminativists saying "You don't really see the color red, you just seem to." The seeming is what it is.

and if an experience influences an outcome, our will is as real as anything else we experience.

Well, the problem is that epiphenomenalist say that experience influences nothing. Not even our discussions on epiphenomenalism are contingent on "us" (whoever "we" are) actually having thoughts or experiences. We are like impotent, immaterial parasites piggy-backing on an automata.

I think this is absurd too.


[1] Which, honestly, I should "physicalism," I use the term "Materialism" mostly out of habit, and because it is more commonly used.

[2] Materialism, defined as "the two-fold doctrine that the ultimate units of the world are entities or events that are devoid of both experience and spontaneity, and that nothing exists but such units, interactions among them, and aggregates of them." (Griffin)

[3] [url:2rq1fn4u]http&#58;//members&#46;aol&#46;com/%20Mszlazak/PanExpMind&#46;html[/url:2rq1fn4u]

[4] A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p78 view post


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