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Science disenchanting the world. posted 28 October 2004 in Philosophy DiscussionScience disenchanting the world. by TakLoufer, Candidate

---Grantaire's message

Quote: "Grantaire":zes1pxzv
Just a quick comment about your comparison between Newtonian physics and quantum physics. Really, they have equal explanatory power, because they are only two parts of the complete physical description of the universe. Quantum gravity will be the unifying factor, once it is discovered (though some think string theory can reconcile them as well).[/quote:zes1pxzv]

Well, I should have been more clear. Newtonian physics, by being incomplete, has less explanatory value than Newtonian + Einsteinian + Quantum physics.

Newtonian physics isn't so much wrong as it is incomplete. Modern physics, though it is more complex, has more explanatory value.

See, I've thought quite a bit about this problem over the last few days. I think that part of the reason we can't conceptualize a real solution to this is simply the limitations of human understanding. Many even simpler concepts are extremely challenging to get a grasp on- after all, we can visualize three-dimensions by putting it on a two-dimensional medium, but does that mean we can create a model of four-dimensions? It's simply something we can't really create a concrete solution to.

Granted, we can't reduce our view of the universe past energy as the most basic level of what things "are", but does that mean that we absolutely must resort to a metaphysical answer? I think that perhaps there can be a physical answer, but perhaps it simply is incomprehensible to the human mind, and so we turn to metaphysics, because although complex, it is easier to understand than the most fundamental level of physics. Physics can be anywhere from totally concrete to somewhat abstract, but at this level, it is utterly abstract, and in a way I think we'll never truly understand. But I don't think that necessitates a metaphysical explanation.

I'm sure there is a "physical" answer, but to us it would be metaphysics.

Physics, as understood in the common sense, can only go so far - at least for us. The intrinsic nature of things can't be deduced through mere observations and, as weird as the quantum world is, this still applies to it as well. The only thing we can seem to deduce from quantum physics is that reality is probably not ultimately comprehensible to us. As for the fundamental nature of things . . . ? I'd argue that it has some form of experience as an absolute, but other than that, who knows?

I think you've hit on exactly why I'm saying it's irrelevent. Simply by the fact that you wish to discuss consciousness in terms of metaphysics (philosophy), makes all conclusions automatically void.

You can't avoid metaphysics. Metaphysics is the foundation that science rest upon. All science has a metaphysic under it, whether scientists are aware of it or not. Even scientists who merely assume that the units they refer to are abstractions (abstractions of what? more abstractions?), if taken literally, espouse a form of irrealism (or possibly idealism).

Most scientists today, or at least those that give name to their metaphysic, rest science upon materialism. The problem with this is that, given the characteristics of materialism, consciousness cannot be explained. The scientists have to "cheat" and let a homunculus in to bridge the gap between objective and subjective.

Now, in virtually all scientific endeavors, metaphysics are irrelevant. Making a steam engine, measuring and predicting the movement of heavenly bodies, constructing space craft, even the complexities of quantum mechanics: these employ only objective matters and predictions there of, and any assumption about the noumenal nature of the units of existence are left out of the science (or, usually assumed to be vacuous or abstract). Materialism works just fine in everyday science, as does assuming the units to be abstractions, or dreams, or whatever. Metaphysics is not all that important to observed, objective phenomena, and it hardly ever crops up.

But consciousness is a fundamentally different kind of "thing" than any other phenomena. You can't observe consciousness like you observe other kinds of physical phenomena, because consciousness is the observing.

It is consciousness that pushes metaphysics into the spotlight, because it is in this regard that assumptions about the units of existence actually make a difference. This, unfortunally, is lost on most scientists who think they can "explain" consciousness by referring to objective observations.

If references to metaphysics make theories of consciousness void, then scientific theories of consciousness are void as well. This is because science always has a metaphysic behind it (whether it be materialism, "abstractions," idealism, etc).

The nature of philosophical discourse, as well as language, make it so that not only will readers not get the exact intent of your communication, but also, human perception "taints" what we perceive, simply through the nature of our minds.

This is unavoidable, to an extent, but this is problematic even within fields outside metaphysics (though, I admit, metaphysics does have a greater capacity for confusion). But, by virtue of the fact that I have the ability to conceive of concepts, I know that such concepts can be conceived. And, assuming most minds are at least somewhat similar to mine, and even considering the crudities of language, I should, in principle, be able to convey concepts through the use of language. Even if the initial attempt results in confusion, I can always use more words to scaffold the subject closer to my intention. Language is not perfect, but I am still able to use it to put ideas into the mind's of others.

You spoke earlier of mistaking the map for the territory in the case of subatomic particles, but I think the exact same error could be made here- a linguistic description of fundamental metaphysics should not be mistaken for what it actually represents.

This is true, but language is not just a collection of noises, they are used to convey concepts. Whether these concepts be a grocery list or the secrets of the universe is aside the point. True, some of the metaphysical concepts can be hard to visualize, and we no doubt have limits to our cognitive ability in this regard, but language can still be used to forward these ideas to other minds, or, at the very least, ideas that are similar to the intended.

Also, what each of us "experiences" in the universe is a totally subjective experience- and how can that translate into a true fundamental solution of metaphysics, applicable to all "conscious experiencers"? (for lack of a better term)

I'm not quite sure by what you mean by "applicable to all 'conscious experiencers'," do you mean that if the theory makes sense to all entities who experience, or that it "applies" as in "explains" how they can possess (or, "be") experience?

If you mean the former, well, I'm not sure how this is an issue. My cat is incapable of understanding metaphysics, and even if she did understand, I doubt she'd care. Also, Martians may or may not have the capability of understanding these theories, but, if they're intelligent enough, they should be able to, even if we may have difficulty in conveying these ideas to them.

If you mean the latter, then I can only say that, despite differences between subjective POVs, all of them have a "something it is like" to "be" them. No matter how alien these other entities may be to us, they still have that quality of "being." This is what needs to be accounted for.

I see your point, though. Any solution we do come up with will be limited by our ability to understand it. I take this to mean that our theory will be "crude," as in, only a rough sketch of what's "really" out there.

Sorry if these thoughts are coming out jumbled, I'm hardly a philosophy major <!-- s:wink: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_wink.gif" alt=":wink:" title="Wink" /><!-- s:wink: -->

Heh, I've never taken a philosophy course in my life. <!-- s;) --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- s;) -->

Another thing I'd like to hit on is the old "what if we're just the dream of a butterfly?" idea. I think this too is an interesting idea, because what if our entire universe, our existances, our experiences and memories, our emotions and thoughts, the births and deaths of galaxies- what if all of it is simply a passing aspect of some...larger entity/thing (there is no word I can think of that is fitting)? We could live in this universe, with its physical laws, and perhaps some fundamental metaphysical law, or basis of matter/consciousness, but what would it matter then, if really they aren't what the "true" reality is?

If reality is the dream of a butterfly, then "we" are, in fact, the butterfly. But what world is the butterfly in? An infinite regress threatens. But, even granting that our universe may be something thought up by some super-being, such possible worlds are not important when talking about experience. If the butterfly is dreaming us up, where does the butterfly's experience come from? If the metaphysic of our world is materialistic (as defined by [1]), then a meta-metaphysic is assumed to account for the "just-so-ness" of experience. The "world within a world" concept only pushes the question back a "world."

And I have met very few people who are even aware of the many problems that philosophy can bring up, and even fewer who would care.

And this phenomena isn't limited to "Joe Six-Packs" either. I was talking to a friend, who is fairly well versed in science, and I happened to mention the mind-body problem. He was puzzled by this and questioned me on what I meant. I tried to explain, but he simply said "But what's the problem? Consciousness is just chemical reactions. What's so complicated with that?" Silly me, I thought there was a problem <!-- s:? --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_confused.gif" alt=":?" title="Confused" /><!-- s:? --> After discussing it further, my friend was of the opinion that anyone who disagreed with him was a "religious nut." He failed to explain how third person objective (and supposedly vacuous) entities, under the descriptive guise of "chemical reactions," can generate first person "something it is liked-ness".

---Scott's message

But what about Dennett's 'heterophenomenological argument'? I think its flawed, but there's a lot who don't. It's conjecture because it's extremely controversial.

Well, conjecture means coming to a conclusion while having insufficient data. Given my (in my opinion, modest) claim that experience can't be explained through the exclusive use of the materialistic metaphysic as defined by [1], I don't see how my conclusion is ill established. My theory on panpsychism, though, is conjecture, I will admit.

On the other hand, as many problems as Dennett's position (and, by extension, functionalism in general) has, many people still support it. In this regard, my idea is conjecture (from a social perspective). But, for reasons explained in previous posts, I feel that all materialistic and functionalistic theories are incapable of explaining experience without (unconsciously) resorting to a homunculus. Without this homunculus, the experience is just brute metaphysical fact.

This latter statement is false, actually. There's any number of alternatives. My bet is that it will eventually provides two accounts: one dealing with what 'is really going on,' and another dealing with 'how we experience what is really going on.' This is in keeping with the pattern. I'm not sure what you mean with your former point.

We already know that there is a "what's really going on" and a "how we experience what is really going on." This is a given, unless one advocates solipsism. The problem is how do we get from "what's really going on" to "our experience" in a way in which one entails the other. As of now, the objective and subjective worlds are separated by a chasm, and materialism doesn't seem to have the resources to construct a bridge to cross it. In a earlier post, I pointed out that one can never divine someone's subjective experience just by examining their brain. Even if scientists had the ability to map out the brain to the level of the sub-atomic world, the experience would not logically entail from the interactions within the brain. This is what I mean by "nothing resembling an explanation."

The functionalists have tried to bridge the chasm by proposing that experience emerges from the casual relations between objects, or is computational. The problem is, given definition [1], all of the casual relations are observer relative. The "parts" don't "know" (whatever this could mean when referring to vacuous entities) what they're doing. The parts don't "know" anything. How do they know what they're casually related to? If the objects only have an "outside," then they casually relate in an experiential vacuum. Experience does not logically entail from this, at least not within materialism.

This is why I say materialistic science is never going to explain experience (qualia and intentionality) in a way in which it logically entails from a vacuous system.

Don't forget the lesson Kant taught us. The problem is that metaphysics, any metaphysics, never relies on 'observed data' plain and simple. Look at all the ridiculous claims people think are 'demonstrated' by the findings of quantum physicists. The 'metaphysical import of the data' is every bit as vexed as the metaphysics themselves, which means, once again, there's nothing to warrant exclusive metaphysical commitments at this level either.

It is true that the specifics can probably never be known, but we can still know what must be explained. As I argued in previous posts, materialism is a dead end, or, to put it another way, if materialism is the metaphysic of our world, there must be a "meta-metaphysic" to account for the "something it is like-ness." Otherwise, experience is a "just so" unexplained phenomena.

I'm not so much committed to a specific metaphysic (though I think panexperientalism is a "good bet") as I am against materialism (or, exclusive materialism), and that any metaphysic that can hope to account for experience must have experience as some form of fundamental (basically, any metaphysic that isn't defined by [1])

[quote:zes1pxzv]McGinn simply takes it as self-evident that neurons are insentient (are protozoa insentient?). If one were to allow that neurons may possess experience (and their component parts possess experience themselves) maybe the problem wouldn't be so puzzling.

Seems to simply multiply the puzzle by about four billion to me.[/quote:zes1pxzv]

Well, the primary obstacle in panpsychic theories is the aggregation problem. For example: Suppose quarks have a primal iota of experience intrinsic to their nature. So what? Even if the quarks are bunched together into subatomic particles, and they into atoms, and so on . . . the only experiencers will still be the quarks. Just as putting a bunch of people into a room doesn't create a new, unified individual. Whitehead's philosophy of organism and Hartshorne's concept of compound individual takes account of this potential problem.

Charles Birch explains this in this article: [url:zes1pxzv]http&#58;//www&#46;alfred&#46;north&#46;whitehead&#46;com/AAPT/discussion_papers/birch_01&#46;htm[/url:zes1pxzv]

But on to the issue I'm most curious about&#058; illusion. You haven't really answered my question. As I mentioned, we're ALL susceptible to many kinds of cognitive and perceptual illusions - publicity doesn't seem to have much to do with it. They're just part of being human. The question is how the case of willing is any different.

I suppose in the case that our feeling of "choosing" can be an cognitive illusion, I agree with you. The choices we make are made for reasons, and if we make a choice that seems to be odd or uncharacteristic, this still has a reason behind it. I don't know if this is the case, but it makes sense to me.

The tree experience you mention is actually a disanalogy. The experience of a tree does not include the experience of self-determination, which is the crux of the illusion at issue here. We think we are consciously causing our acts, when we are not.

I think this deception (if it is deception) can be attributed to an ignorance of "what has come before." In principle, if we were completely aware of all occasions, past and present, then the illusion will be dispelled. However, in practice, I don't think this sort of self-knowledge is possible, so the illusion is not going away.

On the other hand, there may be a fundamental indeterminacy in the world, and compound individuals "magnify" this indeterminacy just as they magnify upon lesser experiences. This may allows for a sort of freedom (Griffin thinks so) but I still think our everyday conscious mind has far less input on our actions then we tend to think. But, I maintain, this does not mean our actions are "mindless," which by this I mean the causes of our actions (and our experiences of them) do not originate from casual interactions between vacuous entities.

Note also, Tak, that it's not epiphenomenalism that's at issue, just the factual status of something we regularly experience. I'm committing to very little, here, aside from a growing scientific consensus regarding the 'will' (and there's far more than Libet's famed (and not so significant)experiments on the line here. Again, I urge you to check out Wegner's book).

I'll see if my university's library carries it. Failing that, I'll use the inter-library exchange. Also, I urge you to read Unsnarling the World Knot by David Ray Griffin.

But here I suspect that, again, that aside from your (unwarranted! <!-- s;) --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- s;) --> ), metaphysical commitments we are pretty close.

Yeah, it seems we do more or less agree that free will may be an illusion, though I would argue that I'm not really commited to any one metaphysic, just that some form of experience must be a fundamental, but other than that, this can take the form of dualism, idealism, panpsychism, or whatever. But the vacuous entities of materialism should be scrapped. if we're to make sense of the mind-body problem.

On a last note, I think you're right when you say most people don't know what their freedom consists in, but I do think they have a rough sense of what their freedom is not. I actually find the pragmatic approach (which is to say, Dennett's) to this issue interesting, but tendentious, akin to saying that, although the traditional setting (of souls and gods) has to be utterly overturned we can keep the same conceptual players (of freedom and morality) by just changing a few of their lines. The fact is, we're reading from an entirely different script. The 'redefinitional approach,' where we say something like 'freedom = the ratio of possible behavioural outputs versus environmental inputs, understood from an evolutionary perspective,' glosses over what is in fact very bizarre and profoundly troubling. The fact that one can cook up such redefinitional strategies ad nauseum simply attests to the seriousness of the problem - to the fact that all we can so is spin our wheels. Shrugging your shoulders doesn't make a problem go away, even if you're a pragmatist.

Freedom is presupposed by all humans, even if they logically denounce it. This is worrisome because it seems to put us in the position of denying something essential that we can't help but employ in our daily lives. Nevertheless, after giving the matter some thought, I believe free will is not a "hard core" common sense asset as qualia and intention are. Or, at least free will is not "as hard" as the other two.

Free will may be an illusion. At least, it is not absurd to say so. For example:

It is nonsense to say "I think I see red, but I do not. I only seem to see red."

It is nonsense to say "I think I am thinking of a tree, but I am not. I only seem to be thinking of a tree."

But it is not nessesarly nonsense to say "I think I have free will, but I do not. I only seem to have free will, but my actions are determined by previous factors."

The experience of freedom is real in that we "really" have this experience (illusion or not), just as we "really" see red or "really" think of trees (regardless whether the red object or tree are really "out there"). But, just as we can hallucinate or suffer delusions, it is conceivable that our experience of freedom is just such an illusion - even though the "experience of freedom" is still real, in that we really experience it.

Griffin would disagree with this, and he may be right, but, to me at least, even the concept of free will seems muddled and possibly incoherent.

The inferences at stake are so basic that you can terrify a class full of freshmen in a single hour using shared assumptions. The inferences that purport to 'resolve' or 'dissolve' these problems generally take years of specialized training to really comprehend and appreciate.

But I don't really see this as troublesome, as even if people know what freedom isn't, they still are pretty vague at what it is. The best I can come up with is the possibility of having done things differently. Such as "I could have punched my boss in the face, but I chose not to." But this raises the question: why didn't I punch my boss in the face? The decision wasn't random, there were factors that served as determiners (namely, being fired or going to jail). If I had punched him in the face, there would surely be factors that compelled me to do this, irregardless of whether I am aware of them or not.

While this is conjecture, it seems like free will is more like an ignorance of the collective forces that "move the soul."

And, at least for me, the terror that can be felt at "unraveling the rainbow" of free will would have more to do with the notion that my experience and intention have no casual powers. Or, me going and making a sandwich can be explained purely through casual interactions between bits of matter (as defined by [1]) without the concepts of "hunger" or intentions of "sandwichness" entering the picture. There have been many theories to try to get around this, but they all seem to suffer from a homunculus or "crypto-dualism." I would find this frightening not so much due of the perceived lack of freedom, but that my experiences are irrelevant to my actions. That I'm a "magic spray" on what basically amounts to a mound of blindly shifting billiard balls.

Most people, if they thought about it, wouldn't have a problem with the statement: "You ate because you were hungry;" even if we took this casual chain to the realm of the "unconscious." But the statement "Your hunger had nothing to do with you eating." Would leave them either incredulous or terrorfied.

It would seem our positions largely coincide, and that our only differences are a matter of detail and degree.


[1] 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) view post


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