The Twelve Reasons I Don’t Believe in Supernatural Claims, Part I

Earlier, I wrote an essay called “What is Naturalism-Humanism?” where I made it clear that I was a naturalist-humanist and outlined what that means. In summary, I deny supernatural claims, which are statements that {X} exists in physical, objective reality where {X} is something that is independent of arrangements of matter-energy within space-time to some degree. The layman’s definition would be claims that souls, miracles, and/or God exist, or that breaking/suspending the laws of physics is possible.

I’ve started a case against God in “Where is God?” and “The Great Problem of Evil”. But I reject all supernatural claims, not just God. But why do I reject all supernatural claims? While many people have made many supernatural claims throughout all of history, I reject all of these claims for the following twelve reasons:

 

The Twelve Reasons (Table of Contents)

  1. Supernatural Claims Have a Track Record of Failure
  2. Supernatural Claims Are Typically Guesses, At Best
  3. Supernatural Claims Are Frequently Packages, Held for Reasons Other Than Evidence
  4. Supernatural Claims Have No Good Evidence
  5. Many Current Supernatural Claims Have Been Disproved As Much As Possible
  6. Supernatural Claims Have Been Redefined to Be No Longer Falsifiable
  7. A Belief in the Supernatural Asks Too Much
  8. Among Those Who Generally Believe in the Supernatural, There is Complete Disagreement
  9. Humans Have a History of Being Cognitively Biased
  10. Supernatural Claims Have a Massive Double Standard
  11. Supernatural Claims Rarely Improve
  12. Supernatural Claims Are Scientific Dead-Ends

 

#1: Supernatural Claims Have a Track Record of Failure

When we look back through history, one thing is clear — humanity has had a terrible track record of using supernatural claims. Humanity used to think that lightning was the result of God’s wrath, something supernatural. It turned out that lighting was the result of electromagnetism and meteorology, something natural.

Humanity used to think that disease was the result of demons, something supernatural. It turned out that disease was the result of germs and viruses, something natural.

Humanity used to think that the neat, elliptical orbits of the planets was the result of divine intelligence, something supernatural. It turned out that it was the result of gravity, something natural.

Humanity used to think that crops grew because of the power of animal sacrifice, something supernatural. It turned out that it was the result of mere agriculture, something completely natural.

 

The fact is that, throughout history, naturalistic claims have replaced supernatural claims on thousands of different issues. Right off the bat, the supernatural has been disproven thousands of times. Yet, there has not been a single claim in all of history in which a naturalistic claim has been replaced in the same way. Not once was there ever agreement on a naturalistic claim that was then later disproven, and replaced with agreement that a supernatural hypothesis is more likely. Once a naturalistic explanation is accepted, the naturalistic basis never goes away. It merely gets updated within naturalism.

This can be seen most recently with the theory of evolution continuing more and more to replace supernatural hypotheses of intelligent design, to the point where evolution can now convincingly explain human life better than an appeal to a supernatural deity can. More and more information in biology is pushing against hypotheses that God is required for abiogenesis. More and more information in cosmology is pushing against hypotheses that God is required for the origin of the universe. More and more information in psychology and neurology is pushing against hypotheses that God is required for human thought and intelligence. What’s left is a very shrinking “God of the Gaps”.

 

Richard Carrier makes this argument in his debate with Tom Wanchick, in which he analogizes the naturalism vs. supernaturalism fight to a horse race. Horse A has won thousands of races and never lost. Horse B has lost thousands of races and never won. Horse A is facing Horse B in race. Isn’t it most logical to assume that Horse A will win again?

In the modern era, we have very few questions left for the supernatural to answer. Based on that current trend, we can only expect those questions to shrink. It’s even possible that someday we will have no need to appeal to the supernatural, having finally solved every question once thought to need a supernatural answer.

 

#2: Supernatural Claims Are Typically Guesses, At Best

Beliefs exist, more or less, to answer questions. We want to know things, so in lack of a good answer, we’ll use our best guess. This is what supernatural claims typically are — guesses to explain what either has not been yet explained or is unexplainable. For example, why are humans so self-aware and intelligent when other animals do not appear to be? The answer is that we were supernaturally given souls. How did the universe come to exist? The answer is that a deity created the universe, supernaturally. How did life on Earth come to exist? Again, the answer is that a diety created life, supernaturally.

We must ask ourselves, where did these claims come from? What made people in Greek mythology sincerely believe lighting was the result of Zeus, and what makes people in modern mythology sincerely believe the universe was the result of God? Easy. Something along the lines of “well, we have no other answer, so we might as well fill this one in.” Nowadays we frequently here statements like “How else could the universe possibly have come into existence? Do you really think that all of this came from nothing?”

Well, gee. You’re correct, I don’t really think that all of this came from nothing. The answer is that I actually don’t know how the universe originated. But before you go “HA! Gotcha! God exists!” I must let you know that there is a key difference here.

I can easily imagine people thousands of years ago — people who don’t understand anything about electromagnetism or meteorology — saying “How else could lightning possibly come into existence? Do you really think that lightning just comes out of nowhere?” Just because we don’t know the answer does not give us freedom to simply invent an answer out of thin air. We can’t just say “I don’t know, therefore God did it.” We cannot use ignorance as proof of the supernatural. Most supernatural claims are just guesses — mere baseless speculation — intended to fill the gaps of understanding.

Lastly, why is your guess the most probable? Why not use any of the other supernatural guesses? There are thousands of different Gods that are used as explanations for the origin of the universe — why is yours the best? Guesses and speculation without proof isn’t good enough. Guesses are not convincing.

 

#3: Supernatural Claims Are Frequently Packages, Held for Reasons Other Than Evidence

Conveniently, a wide variety of supernatural claim beliefs have been bundled up into religions, which are, more or less, take-it-or-leave-it packages — you’re not very likely to encounter a Christian who believes in God but not the soul, for example. This fact of believing a bundle itself is odd, as it means that supernatural claims are not viewed individually. Instead, they all come from the same source — the religion behind them. We’re not saying “is there sufficient reason to believe in a soul?” and “is there sufficient reason to believe in a God?”. Instead, we’re saying “is there sufficient reason to believe Christianity as a whole?”

This should strike people as slightly odd, as it means that individual supernatural claims are not being looked at objectively and critically. Very few people examine each and every religion, and even fewer people examine each specific supernatural claim and then select which claims or religions most accurately reflect reality. Instead, people hold close to the packages they arrived at via non-objective reasons. Religions are not typically held because the evidence points to them.

 

Instead, the most frequent reason someone holds a given religion is because their family is that religion. Those born into a Christian family are very likely to be Christian and those born into a Hindu family are very likely to be Hindu. Very few Hindus become Christians and very few Christians become Hindus. Just because your family or friends believe something does not make it true.

People also frequently hold supernatural claims because it gives them hope, or just generally makes them feel better. These people genuinely want their supernatural claim to be true. These people are also the people who get very offended when you even indirectly suggest that their claim may not be true. However, just because you want something to be true does not make it true.

Lastly, people frequently hold supernatural claims because of some sort of fear — such as fear of death, fear of Hell, fear of social intimidation, or fear of not being able to find meaning or morality. Such reasoning is again not rational — just because a belief would be inconvenient or inspire fear does not make that belief false. There are a lot of beliefs that are both true and create fear. Furthermore, these fears are unwarranted. Humanism allows one to find meaning, morality, and solace without reference to the supernatural.

 

This can be best seen when asking people what they would accept as evidence to prove that they are wrong. Generally, I have found it to be the case those who hold supernatural beliefs will not accept anything as evidence. They know they’re right for some reason, and absolutely nothing will convince them that they could be wrong. Clearly that is not objective behavior.

The fact that so many people are pointing toward tradition, hope, or fear as justification for their belief in the supernatural rather than evidence should raise suspicions. It does not make the supernatural false, but it makes it a lot more likely to be false. There is a clear ulterior motive for belief that has to be brought up and discussed. If we want to prove the supernatural true, we need to correct for this bias.

 

#4: Supernatural Claims Have No Good Evidence

This is the key issue behind why I don’t believe in supernatural claims. Where is the objective evidence for a given supernatural claim? In everything I have heard, the evidence can either be demonstrated to be deeply flawed or the evidence simply doesn’t exist at all. I can’t go in depth about every single claim since it’s a case-by-case basis, but if you think you have solid evidence, let me know and I’ll look at it. I might even change my mind.

However, quite frequently no one is going off of solid evidence. Quite frequently we’re given subjective evidence or rationalizations for why there is no evidence. For example, ask someone why they believe in supernatural claim {X}. Their answer will almost be something like:

{X} is the only explanation for {Y}.
That’s not true. It is quite possible there is an explanation that simply has not been found yet. The only reasonable conclusion we can draw about {Y} is that we simply do not know and we need to devote more time to study this issue. You don’t just get to say that “Well, we don’t know, so that gives me permission to just fill in my personal answer.” You’re preforming a “God of the Gaps” explanation that we discussed in #2.

You can’t disprove {X}.
Well, using this logic, since you can’t disprove the existence of unicorns, we must believe in unicorns. Since you can’t disprove leprechauns, we must believe in leprechauns. Since you can’t disprove the wizarding world of Harry Potter, we must believe it exists. This reveals the faulty logic — just because we have not yet disproved {X} does not mean that you are therefore justified to believe in it. (Regardless, it is likely that new increases in science are pretty close to disproving {X} anyway.)

We don’t need to expect evidence for {X}.
Why not? If there is no evidence for it, how do you know it is there? How can you distinguish a {X} that actually exists from a {X} that is merely imaginary? This is a big problem. Certainly the supernatural exists independently of nature and thus is not immediately testable, but there must be a way of detecting it. But how would we expect to know if {X} is true? Do we even have an objective method?

I’m sure there is evidence for {X} somewhere.
But where? Get back to me when you can actually direct me to some evidence. You shouldn’t just believe a claim because there may or may not be evidence down the road.

I just know that {X} exists. / I have faith that {X} exists.
But why? Why do you have faith in {X} but not in {Y}? Also, how is faith supposed to be convincing to others? People can say they just know anything. People can say they have faith in anything. Does that make you suddenly immune to questioning? How is that just as good as evidence? How does it make up for the lack of evidence? And most importantly, what about all the other people who just know / have faith in something that is completely different? What about the people who just know / have faith in the fact that there is no supernatural?

I have personally experienced {X}.
The thing is, I believe you. However, your experience was subjective, completely anecdotal, and therefore not convincing. Consider the fact that millions of people have had experiences that you don’t believe exist. For example, those of contradictory religions, or those who have experienced UFO abductions, or have seen Elvis, or Bigfoot. Intuition is not always right. Experience has never been enough evidence to prove a phenomena all on its own.

But everyone believes in {X}.
Truth is not a popularity contest. Just because everyone believes in it doesn’t make it true. A long time ago everyone believed the Earth was at the center of the universe. This proved to not be the case, and over a period of a century, everyone slowly recognized the evidence and changed their mind. Claims are true, therefore everyone believes in them — not the other way around. (Besides, not everyone believes in {X}. I don’t, for example.)

Here is the evidence for {X}. We know its true because we have objective method {Y} of detecting it. If {X} is not real, we would expect {Z}, but {Z} is not the case.
The answer is rarely anything like this. This is what I would expect to hear if {X} was real, not some rationalization or subjective experience. Unfortunately, the very few times answers do approach this level of actually answering the question though are based on shoddy evidence and bad science at best.

 

#5: Many Current Supernatural Claims Have Been Disproved As Much As Possible

It’s really difficult to disprove something beyond a reasonable doubt. There always can be an explanation for why claim {X} appears to be disproved. However, we can look at claim {X} and ask ourselves — what would we expect to see if {X} was real? What would we expect to see if {X} wasn’t real? Then we can look at the evidence and see which it matches.

Consider prayer. What would we expect to see if prayer was real? We would expect conclusive results that prayer is having a direct, measurable improvement on things. We would expect people to pray for something and then that something to happen. What would we expect to see if prayer was not a real phenomena? We would expect to see prayers answered in an exact ratio as they would be answered according to mere chance, which we do. We would expect to see a wide variety of failed prayers, which we do. We would expect massive systems to rationalize failed prayer, which we do. We would expect all thorough studies of prayer to turn up no results, which we do.

Consider the soul. What would we expect to see if the soul was real? We would expect conclusive results that there is a mind separate from the brain — we would see parts of human consciousness that cannot be affected at all by brain alterations. If the soul wasn’t real, we would expect the opposite. Tests show that every single part of human consciousness and intelligence can be affected by altering the brain, indicating that the brain is responsible for all of intelligence.

Use this method for nearly any supernatural claim, and it is turning out that the supernatural guess is no longer filling as big of a gap as it used to (see #1 and #2). Many supernatural claims are as disproved as they ever will be, and therefore meet a very high burden of proof to overturn all of this.

 

#6: Supernatural Claims Have Been Redefined to Be No Longer Falsifiable

Following #5, the increasing evidence for the failure of supernatural claims has caused a lot of supernatural claims to be completely scaled back. Because there is no evidence for the supernatural, there are now rationalizations that say we shouldn’t expect any evidence (see #4). These claims have been redefined to the point where they are no longer falsifiable, which means that there is absolutely no method that we could use to indicate that the claim is false. These unfalsifiable claims will be true no matter what happens, therefore making them useless. An un-disprovable claim is also an unprovable claim, and therefore unconvincing.

 

For the best example, consider the movement within creationism — the claim that all life originated from a supernatural act by a supernatural God. Creationism started out with the claim that all of life was created simultaneously and supernaturally no less than 10,000 years ago. This claim failed every possible test and was not reconcilable with the evidence.

Though a few people still stubbornly hold onto it, the claim moved on to a second form: that all of life was created simultaneously and supernaturally hundreds of millions of years ago instead of thousands of years ago. This claim also failed every possible test and was not reconcilable with the evidence.

Though more people still stubbornly hold onto the second form, the claim has largely moved on to a third claim: all of life was created supernaturally hundreds of millions of years ago, but evolved to what we know it to be today via the natural means known (mostly evolution).

All of the earlier claims can be demonstrated to be false. But what could prove the new, modern, third claim wrong? They say everything went exactly as it does according to naturalism, but just had a supernatural origin millions of years ago. Without time travel, we can’t really prove this wrong. All we can do is say it’s a “God of the Gaps” and an unnecessary addition of which there is no evidence (see #2 and #4).

 

We have to keep in mind where this began. The supernatural claim started out being abundantly testable, but then failed every test. It was ruled out objectively and empirically by science. Only afterward, did the third form of Creationism come into existence — something that was much harder, perhaps impossible, to rule out objectively and empirically. This movement appears to be intentional, deliberate, and strategic — after all, a claim that is impossible to rule out is a claim that is much easier to defend.

This shows us three things. First, some existing supernatural claims are completely useless because they cannot be disproved. Second, supernatural claims are moving in full retreat of evidence, avoiding disproof by redefining themselves (this reinforces #1 and #2). Third, some people are clearly holding supernatural claims no matter what the evidence says, as seen by those who still cling to the first and second forms of creationism (this reinforces #3).

Continued by: The Twelve Reasons I Don’t Believe in Supernatural Claims, Part II

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On 29 Dec 2010 in All, Atheism, Naturalism. 80 Comments.

80 Comments

  1. #1 Katie says:
    10 Jan 2011, 7:47 pm  

    The twelve reasons for Naturalism instead of the twelve days of Christmas. I like it :-)

  2. #2 David Bandel says:
    21 Jul 2011, 10:20 am  

    This offends me greatly, sir.

    I have seen god and his name is f_phi(1, 0, G) (G)

  3. #3 Thinking Emotions says:
    20 Sep 2011, 5:51 am  

    Do you think mind and brain are the same thing? You can be a naturalist and still believe they’re distinct.

  4. #4 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    20 Sep 2011, 1:20 pm  

    Do you think mind and brain are the same thing? You can be a naturalist and still believe they’re distinct.

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by “distinct”, but I’m certainly not a dualist in the classic sense. I believe that all our mental functions reduce to the interactions between atoms, just like everything else.

    How would naturalistic dualism even work?

  5. #5 Thinking Emotions says:
    20 Sep 2011, 3:56 pm  

    I wasn’t asking if you thought they were separate entities — only if you believe them to be different from one another. For example, it would be absurd to say, “Man, that movie was really brain-blowing!” It would make more sense to say that the movie was mind-blowing. Your brain doesn’t think about anything, even if it is responsible for projecting consciousness. It merely pulls the levers that produce mental experience. Think of a video game cartridge and the game itself: you’re playing and all of a sudden, you die and you’re out of lives. Game over.

    The cartridge doesn’t know you’re out of lives. It doesn’t know you died. It doesn’t even know what a “life” is. Even if one adopts the reductionist stance, mind and brain are still different despite their conditional nature, i.e., you cannot have mind without brain. It would be philosophically untenable to say that mind and brain are tantamount.

    Here’s a good, terse essay on the subject by a retired philosophy professor: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/09/could-the-mind-be-the-brain.html

  6. #6 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    20 Sep 2011, 4:21 pm  

    Sure, that’s what I thought you were getting at. In that sense, it does make sense to make a distinction between the content of our thoughts and the device that processes our thoughts, despite the content being produced by the processes.

    I think the cartridge example is a bit unfair because the game is working off of analogies made to concepts not programmed into the game that have additional intuitive connotations (such as what it means to have a “life”), despite the cartridge technically having full knowledge of everything that matters (you start at a number, that number decreases under certain scenarios, if that number goes to 0 display “Game Over”).

    I also think that this and what the “Maverick Philosopher” is saying is kind of a semantic quibble: when I say “the mind and the brain are the same” I am intending to communicate something along the lines of “the mind is fully produced by and reducible to the brain and does not include some soul or extra force” not “the content of the brain and the brain itself share every property”.

    I’d say that thoughts are to brains as justice is to the courts and the legal system.

  7. #7 Thinking Emotions says:
    20 Sep 2011, 11:34 pm  

    Well, Maverick’s argument does have its rooting as a semantic quibble, but its implications are heavier than that. If one were to say that the mind and brain share every quality, then the mind and brain are identical — at that point, I think the person holding that position is mistaken. The former proposition is quite different from the one you put forth though. Naturalism permitting, your assertion is philosophically tenable. Your justice and legal system analogy is also quite good.

    … the cartridge technically [has] full knowledge of everything that matters [in the game]…

    It might in some way, but the cartridge does not know what any of it means. You can’t just pick up a video game cartridge to play the game. You need something to process and project it. A long line of programming is vastly different than, “I got hit by a spike, so I died. Now I’m out of lives. Game over.” Similarly, a bunch of microchips are different from graphics representing characters.

    For example, on the naturalist worldview, one could have brain without mind, e.g., a person in a vegetative state**. This would be the same thing as just having a video game cartridge and not a console and television. However, mind without brain is not possible because that would be the experience of a video game without a video game.

    ** I might actually be wrong here. I’m too tired to see if there’s any mental processes going on during such a state. Not to mention, if the issue’s divisive, I won’t be getting any sleep tonight; which, needless to say, is not an option because I am exhausted.

  8. #8 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    22 Sep 2011, 12:47 pm  

    If one were to say that the mind and brain share every quality, then the mind and brain are identical — at that point, I think the person holding that position is mistaken.

    I agree, I just don’t think any naturalist would deny the distinction you made between brain and mind. I think that all “brain and mind are one” statements are said with the intent to demonstrate the non-existence of extra spooky stuff (like souls) and that such spooky stuff need not be invoked to explain consciousness.

    Perhaps “brain and mind are one” is a poor choice of words, or perhaps I’m wrong in my generalization of naturalists. But as far as I know, while your point is a good one to make, I don’t think anyone actually opposes it beyond the semantic quibble.

    ~

    It might in some way, but the cartridge does not know what any of it means. You can’t just pick up a video game cartridge to play the game. You need something to process and project it.

    I think I agree with everything you said about the cartridge, but it may be important to note the game could technically be played without needing anything to be projected, as long as the game still receives inputs from controls. The screen of the game just provides a visualization so the player knows which inputs to preform in order to attain the goal.

  9. #9 Thinking Emotions says:
    22 Sep 2011, 4:16 pm  

    I think that all “brain and mind are one” statements are said with the intent to demonstrate the non-existence of extra spooky stuff (like souls) and that such spooky stuff need not be invoked to explain consciousness.

    Sure, I agree that is the intention. What I’m unsure of is where I actually stand on the philosophy of mind issue itself.

    Perhaps “brain and mind are one” is a poor choice of words, or perhaps I’m wrong in my generalization of naturalists.

    Little bit of both, I’d say. The best way a naturalist could put their proposition about philosophy of mind into words would be that the mind and brain are biconditional: there is mind if, and only if, there is brain. Of course, I don’t know how this works relative to AI. On a naturalistic worldview, human brains are basically hardware; I suppose this may broaden the definition of brain.

    The screen of the game just provides a visualization so the player knows which inputs to preform in order to attain the goal.

    Blind people exist. It could be said that they’re playing the game without visual stimulation. People both blind and deaf also exist. They’re playing the game with nothing but tactile stimulation. Sensory deprivation? Perhaps it could be said that they are the ones staring into lines of programming. Ah, who knows?

  10. #10 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    22 Sep 2011, 7:54 pm  

    Of course, I don’t know how this works relative to AI. On a naturalistic worldview, human brains are basically hardware; I suppose this may broaden the definition of brain.

    Perhaps a good way to gauge whether someone is a naturalist is to ask them “Do you think that, based on all the knowledge that is currently available to us, it is more likely than not that a human-level intelligence can, in principle, be reproduced on a computer?” If they respond yes, then they are likely a naturalist.

    I’d respond yes. What do you think?

  11. #11 Tom says:
    22 Sep 2011, 9:29 pm  

    Hey sorry if I jump in to your discussion. First off, I would like to say that the video game cartridge is a bad analogy. Please do not take offense to that thinking emotions it is not your fault. In truth English is a poor language to talk about brain-mind distinctions. Why? I will now provide quick justifications of both assertions starting with the later.

    The reason English is a poor language to talk about the distinction between the brain and the mind is because the long history of Cartesian dualism that permeates the language. Just think about it. We talk about “having a mind” or “the mind” are language is designed to view the mind as an object. To view the mind as an object is an inherent dualism. Why is English inherently dualistic? Well for starters because Christianity is, but also because the history of the study of the mind is. So yeah, Thinking Emotions, I like a lot of what you say, but I wouldn’t use “brain-blowing” or any other example from the English language to justify your point, because the English language is loaded to make your point. It is an unfair argument.

    The video game cartridge is a somewhat helpful analogy, but it is lacking because it still assumes a divide between the brain and the mind. The divide is the ability of either one to have an effect on the other. If the mind cannot shape the brain/ the brain cannot shape the mind, then you have assumed some type of dualism between them. Maybe not in their constitution but definitely in their function. You have not rejected the concept of dualism, but merely relocated it to within the functioning rather than the constitution of the brain-mind relationship.

    To reject dualism is to admit that there is a two-way flow between the brain and mind. This is why video game cartridge is a bad analogy. The game you play does not change the cartridge, but the mind does change the brain.

    To throw my solution to your problem. Mind is a verb, the brain is a noun. “To have a mind” should be thought of like what it means “to be a dancer.” Dancing is not an object within the body. Dancing is a way of using the body. Having a mind is a way of using the brain. As you dance you shape the muscles,nerves, and rhythm of your body. Your body grows with the dance. Just as your body would grow with the martial arts, or the ability to throw pots, or anything really. We use our bodies for purposes and they mold to those purposes. We use our brain for the purpose of a specific mind and we strengthen neural networks (long-term potentiation (LTP)) we stimulate blood flow, we shape our mind.

    Mind- verb
    Brain- Noun

    How did I do?

  12. #12 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    22 Sep 2011, 10:51 pm  

    Hey sorry if I jump in to your discussion.

    Not at all. This is an open forum for discussion, and I love having multiple people providing input.

    To throw my solution to your problem. Mind is a verb, the brain is a noun. “To have a mind” should be thought of like what it means “to be a dancer.” Dancing is not an object within the body. Dancing is a way of using the body. Having a mind is a way of using the brain.

    I think that’s a superb way to dissolve the issue, and an outstanding metaphor. I think I agree with you completely here.

    What is your opinion on the feasibility of human brain simulation?

  13. #13 Tom says:
    22 Sep 2011, 11:18 pm  

    I think the idea of human brain simulation implies dualism. That verbs are separable from objects. I think being the pattern finding creatures that we are, it is very possible that we find or create something that acts similarly enough to a mind that we call it a brain, but to me “having a mind” is irrevocably attached to having a human brain.

    Scientists label things other species do as dancing. However, beyond the elite group that shares that body of knowledge I do not think many other people would see what those animals do as a dance. Certainly not a ballet, or a waltz, or a swing. I am not saying it is impossible to see it as a dance, but only in the loosest definition of the term. Dances are things done by human legs and human arms. Verbs irrevocably linked to bipedal nouns. Any ability to see dances in fish, ants, etc proves only the human tendency to expand existing paradigms, and an ideology of dualism within said culture.

  14. #14 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    22 Sep 2011, 11:34 pm  

    I think the idea of human brain simulation implies dualism.

    An interesting perspective that I think means I need to clarify what I said further: do you think a computer could, potentially, say hold a fluent English conversation with you? Do you think a computer android could, potentially, fool you into thinking it was human? Why or why not?

    Dances are things done by human legs and human arms. Verbs irrevocably linked to bipedal nouns.

    I get what you mean, but it seems to make sense that a bipedal humanoid robot could be said to dance.

  15. #15 Tom says:
    23 Sep 2011, 12:00 am  

    I think both the idea of a computer having a conversation with me and a bipedal robot is taking the analogy too simply. If you shave the meaning of “conversation” to its bare core, then yes, a computer could probably exchange decode-able statements with me, entailing a conversation. And if we shave the meaning of brain to its bare core, then yes, by holding a fluent English conversation with me we could say a computer could have a brain. But this is exactly what I meant by expanding existing paradigms. You have taken a trait that as of now we see as solely human and by attaching it to something non-human brought with it the rest of what is implied in humanity. But I would argue that holding a conversation alone does define the human brain. And even if it did, I would further suggest that being able to fluently exchange phrases does not define “hold a conversation.” To me a conversation involves desires, motivations, secrets, and a slew of other things beyond just the decode-able and coherent transition of literary symbols.

    The same can be said for dancing. To strip the definition of the richness that makes it a living word one could call a bipedal robot a dancer. But true dancers see dancing as art. Art conveys the depths of the human soul and the human struggle. How could a robot that does not know pain, anxiety, social pressure, produce the same type of dance as a human that does. A human who dances produces not just a dance in its technical movements, but a dance in the minds of his or her audience who imagine his or her diligence, suffering, etc.

    In War and peace Tolstoy states something along the lines that Helene, like all truly beautiful women, seemed to turn her minor flaws into distinctions of her beauty.

    I think this idea can be expanded to the arts and all aesthetics. Humans love imperfection that strives for perfection because it is that that best signifies the human condition. A conversation, a dance, any art is not diminished, but enunciated by the slight flaws of the actor. Those flaws become distinctions because of the struggle of the human actor who makes them. A “dancing” robot would have no such struggle, there would be no flaws, only malfunctions (note the coldness of that word even though it has a similar definition – connotations-).

    It was misleading of me to say human legs, implying it was just that particular part of the human apparatus that defines human dance. I was just doing so to pin-point an example. To replicate human dance or conversation you would have to completely replicate the human condition. I could be wrong about this, but i think I am right, and I stand by what I said. specific verbs and nouns exist in relation to each other. It is impossible to apply some verbs to some nouns.

  16. #16 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    23 Sep 2011, 12:34 am  

    But true dancers see dancing as art. Art conveys the depths of the human soul and the human struggle. How could a robot that does not know pain, anxiety, social pressure, produce the same type of dance as a human that does. A human who dances produces not just a dance in its technical movements, but a dance in the minds of his or her audience who imagine his or her diligence, suffering, etc.

    But do you think that a robot could eventually be programmed to know pain, anxiety, and social pressure? I think a robot could end up being just as meaningful as any human individual with related and relatable struggles, but I could be influenced by too much Asimov and Star Trek.

  17. #17 Tom says:
    23 Sep 2011, 7:59 am  

    I mean sure, anything is possible. But given what I know about our current technology I see that possibility as so far away I do not count it. It is not a situation I will have to deal with in my lifetime, or my children will (I am fairly certain) so it’s not that important to me.

  18. #18 Thinking Emotions says:
    23 Sep 2011, 3:57 pm  

    Hi Tom! I honestly liked your thoughtful response, but I do disagree with you. The biggest reason I disagree with you is that you level your criticism not to an error in my reasoning, but rather what you think is an error in my rhetoric. That’s not to say that language isn’t a barrier within brain-mind discussions and in any sort of discussion ascertaining truth.

    The reason English is a poor language to talk about the distinction between the brain and the mind is because the long history of Cartesian dualism that permeates the language. Just think about it. We talk about “having a mind” or “the mind;” [our] language is designed to view the mind as an object.

    This is an interesting viewpoint, but no matter what our language wants us to think, the mind is an object. If it is not an object, then what is it?

    I don’t think mind can be a verb. What does a verb even reduce to? Nothing comes to mind (no pun intended) other than movement, and that’s flawed because verbs such as persuade, analyze, typify, etc. are not necessarily linked to movement.

    I’d also like to note that mind actually is a noun. You can reword mind to mean “to have a mind,” but that thing (i.e., mind) that you have, what is it? It’s an object, thus a noun. I find your criticism odd because you think my analogy is flawed due to rhetoric, and offer a solution that is completely grounded in rhetoric. I don’t see how this does anything but create a new problem. Don’t take it personally, of course. I could be misunderstanding you.

    The video game cartridge is a somewhat helpful analogy, but it is lacking because it still assumes a divide between the brain and the mind. The divide is the ability of either one to have an effect on the other. If the mind cannot shape the brain/ the brain cannot shape the mind, then you have assumed some type of dualism between them.

    This objection is patently false. Have you ever played a video game before? Information from the cartridge can be saved onto the console, which has an effect on the console; ergo, the cartridge shapes the console. This applies vice versa as well. Even further, if a console becomes damaged, the cartridge may appear to be damaged. This too works both ways. So, I’m not assuming any sort of fundamental dualism here.

    To throw my solution to your problem. Mind is a verb, the brain is a noun. “To have a mind” should be thought of like what it means “to be a dancer.” Dancing is not an object within the body. Dancing is a way of using the body. Having a mind is a way of using the brain. As you dance you shape the muscles,nerves, and rhythm of your body. Your body grows with the dance. Just as your body would grow with the martial arts, or the ability to throw pots, or anything really. We use our bodies for purposes and they mold to those purposes.

    TBH, I think this is an artful, specious argument that actually depends 100% upon the English language. I previously addressed it to some extent, but let me conclude here. Having a brain entails having a mind in nearly every case. Having a body, however, does not entail being a dancer. Your analogy doesn’t work because the two do not complement each other.

    Also, one can have a mind but rarely use it. Having a mind =/= using it, just like having a body =/= dancing.

    Peter, do you agree with me or did I totally miss the point? To answer your earlier question, I think it’s possible, but I don’t think it implies naturalism.

  19. #19 Thinking Emotions says:
    23 Sep 2011, 4:17 pm  

    By the way, isn’t dancing technically a way of using the brain as well? Your body can’t do anything without a brain. Also, “to have” and “to be” are two very different verbs. I can be dancing, or one could say I was dancing, but I can’t have dancing. The reason dancing isn’t an object within the body is because it isn’t an object AT ALL. You can’t be a mind, but you can have one.

    When one does use their mind, we call it thinking; regarding “thinking” as “having a mind” implies that just having a mind uses the brain. Having a mind affects the brain, but that’s a mundane statement. One can have a mind but not use it. Your argument appears to be saying, “we use the brain to use the mind,” which may as well reduce to, “brain leads to mind” or “mind reduces to brain.” The latter two examples are much less confusing and more precise.

  20. #20 Tom says:
    23 Sep 2011, 5:17 pm  

    Thinking Emotions,

    Why is the mind an object? You seem very adamant in this assertion, but why? Could you show me a mind? An object is a tangible thing. To claim the mind is tangible is to claim that it is a physicality separate from the brain, even if you still assert that it exists within the system of the brain. A rib cage exists within the skeletal system and the human system, but what makes it an object is that it can be physically removed from these systems and integrated into new systems of matter. A rib cage once torn from a human breast can become any number of other things: food, weaponry, art, musical instrument, sediment, the list is potentially endless. A mind, cannot. If you think it can, you are a dualist. Because you are suggesting that there is something called “a mind”, that is an object, that can be separated from the brain. That is dualism. I do not know how else to say it. If you think the mind is an object, you are a dualist. Lets look at your analogy of the cartridge.

    First, I would like to point out that your initial analogy did not talk of consoles at all. I assumed that you left it out of your analogy because you realized that if the consol was taken into account your analogy would contradict your position (unless the consol was defined as the body, but that is problematic for different reasons). I guess I was wrong in my assumption, because here you clearly state (in a revision to your original analogy) that the cartridge is the mind and the consol is the brain. I have played video games, and as you know, a cartridge is removable from a consol. That is because a cartridge is an object separate of a consol. If this really is the analogy you want to use, then it is dualism.

    Your first analogy was better when it stayed within the realm of the game and the cartridge.

    As to what is a verb. You are right to think of a verb as movement. However, I think you are way too limited in your notion of what movement contends. Every object imposes a structure onto a territory. For example as my body annexes different territories (food, oxygen, water, chemicals, etc) it breaks down their structure and imposes its own highly complex structure upon them. Let’s say a bullet is shot at me, that bullet pushes into my territory and breaks apart my structure to preserve its own as it moves through me. if I was superman, then it would be my structure that would break apart the molecules of the bullet as they began to enter the territory of my skin.

    Ok, so object, structure. Verbs are potentials of movement that exist due to the constitution of a structure. Have you ever seen those wire balls that can be compressed or expanded? That is what comes to mind right now, you can bend and shift their structure without breaking it. The human body is the same, you can eat many things that probably cause huge shifts in your structure to cope with the foreign materials. Imagine eating some laxative that causes your body’s structure to twist, bend, squeeze, and invert parts of itself to expel this toxin. Then imagine consuming a poison that moves your body in ways that it is unable to maintain its structure, and thus breaks (i.e you die).

    So, verbs are movements of structures. Since structures are inherently different, some verbs cannot exist outside of certain structures. Having a mind is a perfect example of one of these.

    You said having a brain entails having a mind in nearly every case. Might I ask what your criteria of having a mind is?

  21. #21 Tom says:
    23 Sep 2011, 5:20 pm  

    You are right you cannot have dancing, dancing is a verb. You also cannot have a mind. In English you can, but as I said in my original post, this is because how we talk in English is derivied from an ideology that is dualistic.

  22. #22 Thinking Emotions says:
    23 Sep 2011, 7:16 pm  

    First and foremost, I’d like to drop my analogy. It wasn’t meant to illustrate dualism — it was meant to illustrate that mind and brain are different things. At this point, I want to argue philosophy of mind.

    Why is the mind an object? You seem very adamant in this assertion, but why? Could you show me a mind? An object is a tangible thing. To claim the mind is tangible is to claim that it is a physicality separate from the brain, even if you still assert that it exists within the system of the brain.

    Can you show me knowledge? How about an idea? Or philosophy? All these things are conceptual, but they’re still things.

    A thing is a thing even if it isn’t tangible. Also, I’ve never once claimed the mind was tangible, nor did I claim that it was physically separable from the brain. I will concede that my analogy uses a cartridge as mind, which is physical, but that was not what I was trying to convey. If I was a dualist, I certainly wouldn’t believe the mind was tangible. At this point, you’re attacking an argument I’ve never once made.

    The mind is an object or thing (noun) because that is its linguistic nature, but also due to its metaphysical nature. Please show me a language where mind is not a noun and/or substantiate your claim that English distorts mind-brain discussions. The mind is consciousness: all of our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, etc. The mind contains and processes those other equally intangible things; you could say it has them, or that those things belong to the mind. Mind is obviously not meant to be a verb, because we have a verb for when use our mind or brain — it’s called thinking. Please show me a language that does not comport with this.

    Since the brain has things like ideas, hopes, day dreams, etc., this seems to make it pretty clear that it is a thing or object. A verb cannot “have” anything; a verb can only be at some point in time. A thing, on the other hand, can have things. A wallet may have money, or a plate may have food. Does this mean they are tantamount?

    Sure, the mind does DO things, but we call those things thinking, reasoning, analyzing, etc. The mind is an agent that may be dependent upon the brain, but that doesn’t mean it is the brain. You should read the essay I shared with Peter.

    For example as my body annexes different territories (food, oxygen, water, chemicals, etc) it breaks down their structure and imposes its own highly complex structure upon them…

    Verbs are potentials of movement that exist due to the constitution of a structure…

    So, verbs are movements of structures. Since structures are inherently different, some verbs cannot exist outside of certain structures. Having a mind is a perfect example of one of these.

    How does the brain (physical) annex something immaterial or abstract? By nature, these things have no physical structure, therefore can have no potential movements; this would mean they could not go anywhere or affect anything, i.e., they don’t exist. How does one impose an idea upon their brains? How does an idea change anything? If ideas, philosophy, or arguments have no physical structure, how do they influence a physical object such as the brain?

    Even if the mind/consciousness is an illusion and reducible to brain, it is still not the brain. Our minds are responsible for our thinking, even if our brains are responsible for our minds.

    In your initial response, you claim that mind affects brain. How does the mind affect brain if your position putatively equates the mind to the brain? To say, “the mind is the verb, the brain is the noun” is just tautological. Why not just change that to “the brain is the mind?”

    Please clarify your position if you have one: do you believe mind is reducible to brain? If so, why not just say that? It’s a lot more clear and precise. Are you a materialist/physicalist/naturalist?

    I think I am as well, but I’m in the midst of a philosophical identity crisis; I have been for about half a year now.

    In English you can, but as I said in my original post, this is because how we talk in English is derivied from an ideology that is dualistic.

    Please prove that our discourse on this topic was different before Descartes introduced the concept of dualism. Is there any evidence to support that claim?

  23. #23 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    23 Sep 2011, 11:28 pm  

    It is not a situation I will have to deal with in my lifetime, or my children will (I am fairly certain) so it’s not that important to me.

    Fair enough. For a more direct question, would you consider yourself to be a naturalist? Why or why not?

  24. #24 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    23 Sep 2011, 11:28 pm  

    Peter, do you agree with me or did I totally miss the point? To answer your earlier question, I think it’s possible, but I don’t think it implies naturalism.

    I agree with Tom when he said “Dancing is not an object within the body. Dancing is a way of using the body. Having a mind is a way of using the brain.”

    My interpretation of this was that it reinforces the mind is a product generated by the brain, very similar to my justice and courts analogy.

    I’m also sympathetic to Tom’s general points about the dualistic-endorsing nature of the English language, and think that we could potentially use “brain” to refer to both the physical brain and the mind without losing much. I did not interpret this as an argument against you, but as a complementary statement.
     
    I agree with you when you say “I don’t think mind can be a verb. What does a verb even reduce to? Nothing comes to mind (no pun intended) other than movement, and that’s flawed because verbs such as persuade, analyze, typify, etc. are not necessarily linked to movement.”

    This is why I think perhaps the best way of describing the brain-mind relationship is with a producer-product relationship. This is also where the verb idea might come in, because a producer producing a product seems linked to the concept of a verb/action/process of producing.

    ~

    A thing is a thing even if it isn’t tangible.

    I think this is true as I use the word “thing”, making the “mind” a thing (a concept that can be used to refer to something, namely the specific product the brain produces). But I also think it is very easy for other people to get caught up in a different definition of “thing” that requires tangibility.

    I think you two are genuinely debating definitions, something I do not endorse. A question I would ask you two is: Is there any experience one of you anticipates that the other does not? As in, is there any disagreement you two have about how the brain and thinking actually work?

    If not, I personally question if your debate is even worthwhile. However, it is interesting, and I definitely enjoy reading it.

  25. #25 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    23 Sep 2011, 11:29 pm  

    I think I am as well, but I’m in the midst of a philosophical identity crisis; I have been for about half a year now.

    I’m interested in hearing about this through some venue. What caused your philosophical identity crisis, and what is the nature of the crisis? Perhaps you have some blog posts about it you can refer me to.

    I honestly haven’t thought much about philosophy of mind. My subjective feeling is that the entire branch is one giant semantic quibble, but perhaps the area has more merit. I am truly ignorant here because it hasn’t been important to me, but I’ll be studying it in college soon.

  26. #26 Thinking Emotions says:
    24 Sep 2011, 2:07 pm  

    Peter, wish granted. You can now read all about my philosophical crisis here.

    If having a mind is just a way of using the brain, what do we call the other processes the brain does? For example, we don’t consciously maintain our heartbeat and breathing. Our brain stem regulates these processes independent of our thoughts and will. We also have no control over whether or not we have a mind, although I’m not sure what relevance that has.

    I just think his argument is unnecessarily semantical. If having a mind is just a way of using a brain, isn’t it tautological to even use the term mind? If mind is just “having a mind [as a product the brain],” and having a mind is a way of using the brain, then you’re really just using the brain when you’re using the mind. His reasoning amounts to a tautology; a false one at that. If we thought with our brains, why can we not have influence over our heartbeat or breathing? Our brains are obviously not the domain of thought even if they are responsible for producing what is. Is there a “consciousness component” of our brains?

    I do agree that this discussion is becoming tiresome and meaningless. It’s making my head hurt and the more I think about it, it’s not going anywhere. I believe you’re right when you say we’re debating definitions. That’s probably why we’re not getting anywhere. I don’t think we were just debating semantics, though. We were beginning to discuss the nature of the brain and mind — that could have led to progress.

    This is why I think perhaps the best way of describing the brain-mind relationship is with a producer-product relationship. This is also where the verb idea might come in, because a producer producing a product seems linked to the concept of a verb/action/process of producing.

    Sort of like projector-projection? I think this is probably what his position is. I just want clarification.

    Is there any experience one of you anticipates that the other does not? As in, is there any disagreement you two have about how the brain and thinking actually work?

    I’m glad you were able to advance our conversation! We could have went on forever. Before I answer, I just want to note that I immediately asked him if he believed mind was reducible to brain. He did not answer. This leads me to believe that he does not think that.

    To answer your question, not that I can plainly see. It seems to me that thinking must be performed by something immaterial. I don’t know how the brain could comprehend ideas (i.e., annex mental territories) if they didn’t have physical structure or any movement.

  27. #27 Tom says:
    25 Sep 2011, 4:22 pm  

    I thought it was pretty obvious I don’t think that the mind is reducible to the brain. I clearly stated that I believe the mind is a function; where as the brain is a thing. Perhaps I should have more defined that function instead of assume it was obvious.

    Having a mind, to me, implies having a consistent system of logic that is statistically based. What this means is that the general meaning of the symbols you use to think are stable so that they can be understood by other humans and integrated into a larger cultural and thus interpretable. Obviously symbols by nature of being symbols are somewhat ambiguous, but they exist within a consistent range. When I say mind you know I am talking in some respect about the production of human cognition.

    As to your comment

    “If we thought with our brains, why can we not have influence over our heartbeat or breathing? Our brains are obviously not the domain of thought even if they are responsible for producing what is. Is there a “consciousness component” of our brains?”

    I really do not understand your logic here. We run with our legs, but we clearly do not have domain over the entirety that is our legs (blood cells, nerves, etc). Now as to the extent to which we can control our breathing and heartbeat those are different verbs. Breathing, Meditating, Thinking, you can think without having a mind. Thinking just involves processing symbols and sensation in your brain. Minding (having a mind) is have an order, a logic, to how you think.

    And Thinking Emotions, before you continue to jump down my throat about this. This is not my argument. It is Jaegwon Kim, a very prominent academic in the field of the philosophy of the mind…. Maybe you should read a little more about the current state of the field rather than blindly supporting outdated theory. I apologize if I have not presented the argument eloquently, but the mind as verb distinction is not just semantics, and Peter we are arguing definitions but this is a clear example of when it is important to do so. Peter, if you re-read his initial response to me, you see that he cannot even comprehend the mind as a verb and what that means. This is because the definition of the mind as a noun is so engrained in him. I cannot just accept his definition because of the drastic implications of it. My point literally does not exist under his definition.

    Treating the mind as verb as opposed to a noun does change how you anticipate experience. Under my definition the mind is not just a given. You ever think there are so many morons in our country because we culturally assume that having a mind is innate as a opposed to worked for. There is the smart-dumb distinction, but for the most part we culturally assume that to be a given as well. We think some people are smarter than others, some people are stronger than others. There is some truth to this, but whatever truth is there can largely be counteracted by habitation. The definition we are arguing about is a actually one of the lower order motivators that your experiential truth-apts are based off of.

    I don’t have any more time to devote to this, and honestly I do not think I am going to be able to convince your friend. I would suggest he read Jaegwon Kim and other more modern philosophers of the mind past Descartes or whatever other dead white guy he is reading (that was perhaps a bit too aggressive)

    Oh, PS.

    Thinking Emotions, Chinese is a language where the mind is not a noun. If you would like to educate yourself more on that too, try reading Roger Ames.

  28. #28 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    26 Sep 2011, 1:00 am  

    Sort of like projector-projection? I think this is probably what his position is. I just want clarification.

    I’d be willing to bet that this is the basis for both of your positions, but you might differ in some of your implications or distinctions.

    ~

    Me: Is there any experience one of you anticipates that the other does not? As in, is there any disagreement you two have about how the brain and thinking actually work?

    ThinkingEmotions: Before I answer, I just want to note that I immediately asked him if he believed mind was reducible to brain. He did not answer. This leads me to believe that he does not think that.

    I’m already foreseeing a stumbling block when it comes to the word “reducible”; I think that’s a word that can also cause confusion, especially if people aren’t familiar with it’s strict philosophical sense.

    ~

    It seems to me that thinking must be performed by something immaterial. I don’t know how the brain could comprehend ideas (i.e., annex mental territories) if they didn’t have physical structure or any movement.

    Here you and I have a disagreement or misunderstanding: I don’t know why you necessitate the immaterial, or even what you mean by the immaterial. To me it sounds like you’re saying that you don’t know how courts could produce justice because justice has no physical structure.

  29. #29 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    26 Sep 2011, 1:00 am  

    Maybe you should read a little more about the current state of the field rather than blindly supporting outdated theory.

    I personally don’t approve of this argumentative approach; it sounds kind of harsh. I wouldn’t make any assumptions of how much of the philosophy of mind field ThinkingEmotions has read.

    ~

    I apologize if I have not presented the argument eloquently, but the mind as verb distinction is not just semantics, and Peter we are arguing definitions but this is a clear example of when it is important to do so.

    I still don’t think you two will get any further if you don’t specifically find an anticipated experience you two disagree about. Whether you meant to or not, your current debate is getting lost in semantics.

    If there’s something to debate, you need to find what it is about the world you two differ over.

    ~

    Peter, if you re-read his initial response to me, you see that he cannot even comprehend the mind as a verb and what that means. This is because the definition of the mind as a noun is so engrained in him. I cannot just accept his definition because of the drastic implications of it. My point literally does not exist under his definition.

    You place very little faith in your conversational partner here. I think he does comprehend the mind as a verb, but still feels the need to make a distinction between what the brain is and what the brain produces as a byproduct of doing (verb).

    Together, these are three things: is, does, end product. You appear to think brain vs. mind is only “is vs. does”, and he appears to think brain vs. mind is only “is vs. end product”.

    I think if you two make distinctions between “is vs. does vs. end product”, you will no longer disagree.

    ~

    Thanks for participating in this discussion though — I personally found it interesting.

  30. #30 Tom Mitchell says:
    26 Sep 2011, 2:21 pm  

    “I think if you two make distinctions between “is vs. does vs. end product”, you will no longer disagree.”

    – But Peter this is exactly what I am saying I cannot let go of. We are arguing about which is more important the “is” or the “end product”. That is why I keep saying it is not defintions we are arguing. I think the assertion that we are arguing the same thing is reductionist.

    Should we organize our perception of reality around objects or processes? What are the implications of an object centered reality? What are the impliciations of a process centered reality? These are questions that define how we organize the information we take in. They define the nature of experiences.

    The concrete example I was trying to develop is the smart-dumb distinction. Let’s say Jimmy is in school. If he is focused on the “end product” as you have said, then he will focus on his current mastery of reading, writing, math, history, etc, and, since he does poorly in these subjects, he will think he is dumb. This does not necessarily mean he will give up in school. There is a multitude of situations that could result in his intellectual growth regardless of this belief, but they are all extrinsic or coincidental. When his support networks or chance stop motivating him, he will stop growing because he focuses on end products. If Jimmy contains an ideology where the mind is a process not a product, he has the potential to view his growth as limitless.

    That is one example, I have to go teach my class, we can talk about it later.

  31. #31 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    26 Sep 2011, 3:49 pm  

    With that clarification, it’s now very clear you two are talking past each other by arguing very different topics.

    What ThinkingEmotions seems to be aiming for is a descriptive statement of how the brain works to produce thoughts, and what you seem to be aiming for is a normative statement about how one ought to develop thoughts.

    What do you think?

  32. #32 Thinking Emotions says:
    26 Sep 2011, 5:23 pm  

    Hey Tom, you’re right. I have not read that much in philosophy of mind. I was merely trying to play the best interlocutor that I could. It appears that your knowledge on this subject vastly outweighs mine. Your last post addressed to me explained your position much more clearly than you had already. And no wonder why I was confused… this has absolutely nothing to do with reductionism. The position you’re talking about is supervenience physicalism, a non-reductive form of physicalism that is actually quite modern.

    It finally clicked for me when you used the word “function.” I know that might be silly, but I think I finally get what you’re saying. And Peter is right — it’s pretty similar to his courts/justice analogy.

    Jaegwon Kim’s ideas sound fascinating, so I appreciate you mentioning him. I don’t normally appreciate name-dropping since it tends to be irrelevant, but your instance was definitely germane.

    I’m sorry if it seemed like I was being rude. I’ll totally admit that I didn’t strive as much as I could have to fully understand your position. And don’t worry, I don’t think you were remarks were too mordacious. I probably seemed incredibly obstinate. The only thing that bothered me was that you took me for a dualist, when really I’m just using that facade to try to gain knowledge on phil. of mind. Call it a dialectical approach (or trolling), if you will. The only thing I ask of you is if we converse in the future, try not to assume that I can’t understand something. Instead, assume I’m just ignorant of the idea.

    What ThinkingEmotions seems to be aiming for is a descriptive statement of how the brain works to produce thoughts, and what you seem to be aiming for is a normative statement about how one ought to develop thoughts.

    That’s definitely what I was talking about, but what he’s arguing for is even deeper than that, I think. The theory he seems to hold to is one that doesn’t use reductionism, but rather a supervenience approach.

  33. #33 Tom says:
    26 Sep 2011, 9:36 pm  

    Thinking Emotions,

    I this conversation has been a much needed reminder of my own hubris. I apologize for the hostility of my words. I am ashamed to admit it, but from the moment i read tautology I seemed to switch into battle mode, and was very insensitive and crude in my writing. I should not have made any assumptions about what you have or had not read, and I definitely should not have implied anything about your capacity to understand. In fact, doing is contradictory to the very point I was trying to make. By implying that you could not understand instead of did not understand I at the same time demonized you and showed my belief in a “end product” vs “process” perspective. I know this must look and sound flagrantly hypocritical. All I would ask is that you bear with my clumsiness. I often forget how arrogant I am, and how much more I still have to learn.

    – Nice talking to you , hope to hear more from you in the future

    Tom

  34. #34 Bryan White says:
    27 Dec 2011, 10:39 pm  

    Man, am I late to this party.

    Shifting somewhat radically from the earlier angle of the discussion, I suggest that naturalism cannot, in principle, explain random events such as (random) formation of quantum particles. Or, if naturalism is stretched to include such things as (random) quantum particle formation then naturalism makes the question of “supernatural” go away.

  35. #35 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    28 Dec 2011, 12:16 am  

    You’re in time; no worries.

    Shifting somewhat radically from the earlier angle of the discussion, I suggest that naturalism cannot, in principle, explain random events such as (random) formation of quantum particles. Or, if naturalism is stretched to include such things as (random) quantum particle formation then naturalism makes the question of “supernatural” go away.

    This actually hits close to an objection I’ve personally raised against naturalism in my essay “The Metaphysics Dilemma”. Notice that the naturalism I advocate is epistemic and not metaphysical — I don’t know enough about the universe to make complete metaphysical claims about what is, though I can reject the supernatural as something that is most likely not.

    As for quantum mechanics specifically, I don’t know enough about particles to respond in an informed manner, but I do think that the many-worlds interpretation is accurate and does reconcile the apparent randomness with a deterministic universe.

  36. #36 Bryan White says:
    28 Dec 2011, 1:50 am  

    Wrong link to the “Dilemma” essay, but I found it with minimal trouble.

    I couldn’t tell if you had rejected naturalism or simply made the question of the supernatural go away. Scientists lately are claiming the universe came from literally nothing. That leaves hardly any room for mechanisms. But perhaps you can argue that scientists such as Lawrence Krauss have no good foundation for their beliefs on that point.

    Maybe there’s good reason to believe that there’s reason to believe material effects do not necessarily require some mechanism after all? Indeed, if beliefs are the result of those mechanisms then all beliefs are justified. ;-)

    I find it interesting that you accept the many-worlds interpretation. Do all of the many worlds occur ex nihilo as described by Krauss or just some of them? And how do you know based on mechanisms? If you have worlds with infinite pasts you’ll be talking about an infinite succession of events–perhaps vulnerable to the Kalam argument. An infinite past seems almost supernatural, doesn’t it? You never find the mechanism behind the mechanism–kind of like turtles all the way down.

    I’m hoping the link describes how the many worlds interpetation reconciles randomness with determinism. Talk to you later once I find out.

    Cheers!

  37. #37 Bryan White says:
    28 Dec 2011, 1:58 am  

    D’oh! Wikipedia!

    I need more explanation than that.

    Isn’t it possible to have a universe exactly like this one where every occurrence is random instead of caused? It seems to me that the appeal to many worlds is another approach that simply makes the question go away. What’s the difference between freedom and determinism if everything happens regardless? Causation is killed as surely as libertarian free will, isn’t it?

  38. #38 Thinking Emotions says:
    28 Dec 2011, 2:47 am  

    Bryan, are there good supernatural beliefs that explain the random formation of quantum particles? I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Even if naturalism wasn’t compatible with these random formations, which I don’t see how it isn’t, why would one piece of evidence lead us to adopt another metaphysical creed? There’s a quote that goes something like, “Naturalism is the worst metaphysical position… except for all the others.”

    Also, I’m not saying that’s the only charge against naturalism. I’m sure there are many other logical and evidential presses to be alleged against it.

  39. #39 Bryan White says:
    28 Dec 2011, 12:07 pm  

    It was asked “Bryan, are there good supernatural beliefs that explain the random formation of quantum particles?”

    It seems to me that you *must* have some supernatural belief in order to accept the existence of random formation of quantum particles. The very question you ask (at least in my experience) has as its underlying premise that an “explanation” is a cause. At the outset, the understanding of “cause” is not the one causal determinists usually have in mind (conditions X must cause conditions Y; conditions X cannot cause conditions ~Y without violating natural law).

    So the answer to your question is yes. If you’re stuck with the choice between naturalism, which cannot even in principle explain truly random events, and the supernatural, which by its default nature permits a type (to distinguish it from causal determinism) of causation, *any* supernatural explanation is preferable to no explanation (no explanation explains nothing, a supernatural explanation might explain something). If you believe in random events then you believe in the supernatural (I regard Hurford’s definition as dubious. If a snake turns into a stick what does that have to do with mind-only phenomena?).

    “Even if naturalism wasn’t compatible with these random formations, which I don’t see how it isn’t …”

    Metaphysical naturalism typically proposes a causal (deterministic) explanation for *all* phenomena. If you don’t see how true randomness is incompatible with that then I think you’d have difficulty explaining how one could ever falsify naturalism. We could have gods, angels and miracles and we’d simply say they were perfectly natural. We’ve simply vanished the question by monkeying around with definitions.

  40. #40 joseph says:
    28 Dec 2011, 10:20 pm  

    @Bryan White
    I am a little confused.
    For Quantum particles we have a field, which can be described to a point, in terms of naturalism. We have a certain amount of energy that can be borrowed, over a well defined period of time, described, as far as I know, by Heisenberg Uncertainty.
    I know this does not give us a “yes/no” answer as to whether a particle will appear at a specific time and location, but it does give us a probability.
    I can easily accept that in the world we observe with our eyes, defining whether or not a car will pop into existence at a specific time or place is nonsensical, but once we’ve even started to glimpse at wave-particle duality we start to know that quantum systems are unlikely to be defined by the same laws that govern objects such as ourselves.
    To attempt to put it neutrally, we can at least explain this behaviour mathematically.

  41. #41 joseph says:
    28 Dec 2011, 10:23 pm  

    I apologise if I’ve missed your point.

  42. #42 Bryan White says:
    29 Dec 2011, 2:45 am  

    Total chaos has a mathematical description I doubt not. But chaos and law are antithetical. A law of probability describing randonmess (and there is randomness with higher probabilities in some ranges than in others; think the 3d4 roll in D&D which is, of course, simulated randomness) is an oxymoron on its face and a contradiction depending on the definitions used.

    I’ll lay bare my approach. Propositions that lead to self-contradiction are false propositions. I test claims according to their self-consistency. I think I detect a number of weak points in good Mr. Hurford’s musings. He’s both sharp and willing to face criticism head on from what I can tell, so I think I’ll either get a good answer that puts me in my place or his thanks as he moves to revise his views on things. Either outcome meets the highest purpose of argumentation.

  43. #43 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    29 Dec 2011, 4:02 am  

    @Bryan White:

    Wrong link to the “Dilemma” essay, but I found it with minimal trouble.

    Fixed, thanks and sorry.

    ~

    I couldn’t tell if you had rejected naturalism or simply made the question of the supernatural go away.

    To resolve a bit of confusion, I’m an epistemic naturalist, which is different from a metaphysical naturalist. An epistemic naturalist thinks that supernatural ideas are incoherent. A metaphysical naturalist thinks that the world is natural.

    I’m an epistemic naturalist because I think the supernatural is all about “fundamentally, ontologically, irreducibly mental entities” and that no one has any idea how we would detect such a thing or what our world would look like with one, even in principle, which makes for a not truth-apt and therefore meaningless statement. Also see this very essay for other reasons.

    I’m not a metaphysical naturalist because I think saying “the world is natural” plays into the same problem of making a not truth-apt statement, since “natural” is far too vague. Again, see “The Metaphysics Dilemma” on this one.

    ~

    Scientists lately are claiming the universe came from literally nothing. That leaves hardly any room for mechanisms.

    I think this is a slightly misleading summary of the current field of cosmology. One thing is the huge mess about causality when there is no time prior to the universe. I think this gives some hope to eternal notions of the universe, even the eternal-yet-finite idea. See this and more in my essay “Proving God Through Cosmology?”.

    ~

    But perhaps you can argue that scientists such as Lawrence Krauss have no good foundation for their beliefs on that point.

    I watched a lecture by Lawrence Krauss on the origin of the universe, but I honestly didn’t really understand what was going on. I hope to read some books about the issue to learn more about it and blog it.

    ~

    Maybe there’s good reason to believe that there’s reason to believe material effects do not necessarily require some mechanism after all? Indeed, if beliefs are the result of those mechanisms then all beliefs are justified. ;-)

    I agree with you, I don’t think this is it. But I think that things that have always existed don’t need an explanation for how they started to exist, though I could see them requiring an explanation for why they exist.

    ~

    I find it interesting that you accept the many-worlds interpretation. Do all of the many worlds occur ex nihilo as described by Krauss or just some of them?

    The worlds aren’t created at all, per se — so saying they “occur ex nihilo” is either an inaccurate or misleading description, I think. I don’t know what Krauss has said on this issue, but that isn’t my highly rudimentary understanding of Many Worlds.

    Honestly, quantum mechanics is one giant can of WTF — I obviously have very little competency about what is going on, but I hope to get a lot more knowledge in the area within the next year or so. So I’m going to have to cop-out a bit on you here for the time being.

    ~

    And how do you know based on mechanisms?

    Sorry for another cop-out, but I don’t even understand this question.

    ~

    If you have worlds with infinite pasts you’ll be talking about an infinite succession of events–perhaps vulnerable to the Kalam argument.

    I don’t think the worlds have actually infinite pasts — I think that they actually have a finite amount of time that has passed, yet have no time beforehand. I also buy into the B-Theory of time over the A-Theory, which makes the notion of time passing a bit irrelevant.

    I promise to write more about this once I understand it a lot better and can tease out the implications; something I’ve wanted to do ever since writing “Proving God Through Cosmology?”. Speaking of which, I also want to rewrite “Proving God Through Cosmology?”.

    That being said, I don’t think the Kalam argument actually argues against an infinite past successfully — while I’m not sure there is an infinite past or any reason why I should accept an infinite past based on current physics, I think an infinite past is compatible with metaphysical naturalism / materialism. You may be interested in this philosophy paper (PDF).

    ~

    An infinite past seems almost supernatural, doesn’t it? You never find the mechanism behind the mechanism–kind of like turtles all the way down.

    I don’t see why that’s an issue.

    ~

    I’m hoping the link describes how the many worlds interpretation reconciles randomness with determinism. Talk to you later once I find out.

    D’oh! Wikipedia!

    I need more explanation than that.

    Many Worlds doesn’t reconcile randomness with determinism, it states that randomness doesn’t exist. You might ask the killer follow-up question “How do we know quantum mechanics isn’t random?” The answer here is me with another cop-out — again, I don’t understand quantum mechanics enough for it to affect my beliefs.

    I would like to point to two resources: the first being “Good and Real: Demystifying Paradoxes form Physics to Ethics”, a book by Gary Drescher.

    Also I’ve been told that Eliezer Yudkowsky’s blog series “And The Winner Is… Many-Worlds” is a great resource on the issue, though… I haven’t yet read it. Though it’s on my to-read list for sure… when I get around to trying to understand quantum mechanics.

    ~

    Isn’t it possible to have a universe exactly like this one where every occurrence is random instead of caused?

    Maybe. But the odds that it would correspond so perfectly and reliably to cause-and-effect would be astronomically slim. And we’d get into issues of why we would want to accept a hypothesis so slim.

    And you’re right there would be no observable differences between that world and our world, except with the derived anticipation that future events might not follow cause-and-effect. So it sounds like “The End of Cartesian Demons” meets the Problem of Induction.

    ~

    It seems to me that the appeal to many worlds is another approach that simply makes the question go away.

    I don’t see why you say that. Many Worlds, to the best of my knowledge, does have a workable explanation for the randomness — it’s an illusion. I wish I knew more to explain, but I don’t. Hopefully I will know more in time.

    ~

    What’s the difference between freedom and determinism if everything happens regardless? Causation is killed as surely as libertarian free will, isn’t it?

    We can have freedom with determinism, in fact I think determinism is a necessary component of freedom because you’re acts should be determined by who you are as a person and anything uncaused and/or random prevents that connection. See “Free Will That Makes Sense” for the full defense of this point.

    ~

    It seems to me that you *must* have some supernatural belief in order to accept the existence of random formation of quantum particles. The very question you ask (at least in my experience) has as its underlying premise that an “explanation” is a cause. At the outset, the understanding of “cause” is not the one causal determinists usually have in mind (conditions X must cause conditions Y; conditions X cannot cause conditions ~Y without violating natural law).

    I sort of buy this. I have a lot of issues with conceiving randomness (as distinct from unpredictability, the closely related epistemic issue). It fundamentally lacks an explanation for why it happened this way instead of that way. And if there is no explanation, than why did the random event even happen at all? There’s no explanation for that either. It just does, full stop, no further investigating necessary. And that sounds like all sorts of crazy.

    But I think it’s a bit silly to say that a supernatural explanation works here — that’s just a clear example of making the question go away, because you just say “supernatural” and then move on as if the randomness problem is gone, yet we still have no idea about why random events occur one way instead of the other.

    Not to mention the very phrase “an explanation of why a random event occurred” is, I think, self-contradictory.

    ~

    (I regard Hurford’s definition as dubious. If a snake turns into a stick what does that have to do with mind-only phenomena?).

    I’ll point to the defense and explanation of my definition in “Defining the Natural and Supernatural”. Basically, I just appeal to the consensus of Richard Carrier, Victor Reppert, and Eliezer Yudkowsky.

    Definitions are a bit of a silly thing to debate, anyways. If you have a workable definition you would prefer to use that isn’t confusing, or a definition you simply find more practical, please let me know.

    As for the snake into a stick thing, the question is why the snake turned into a stick. Was it due to a physical process that we just haven’t discovered yet? If so, that sounds intuitively “natural” and “scientific”.

    ~

    I think I detect a number of weak points in good Mr. Hurford’s musings. He’s both sharp and willing to face criticism head on from what I can tell, so I think I’ll either get a good answer that puts me in my place or his thanks as he moves to revise his views on things. Either outcome meets the highest purpose of argumentation.

    Thanks for the compliments! Hopefully I’ve given you something to work on, if not a profession of ignorance on the issue.

  44. #44 joseph says:
    29 Dec 2011, 5:04 am  

    @Brian White
    Yes, thankyou for the stimulating posts.
    So you said:
    “think the 3d4 roll in D&D which is, of course, simulated randomness”

    I see this as a good metaphor, the result is in effect random, yet governed by physical laws. Unless we get really detailed and started accounting for weight distribution, speed, friction against the hand, air, landing surface, fluid dynamics (?), temperature, air pressure, the material the dice were made of, and the surface they landed on. Or we can simply come up with probabilities of various results.

    The quantum system seems similar, you have a random result in some situations, you can describe the situation in terms of probability, except that the laws that govern the physical characteristics of quantum systems describe limitations to what can be measured.

    So I guess what I’m getting at is probability covers some epistemological limitations, but no one is claiming the dice are magical, why then quantum behaviour?

  45. #45 Bryan White says:
    29 Dec 2011, 1:59 pm  

    I’m going to condense things down a bit (but feel free to bring my attention to anything I neglect that you think needs attention) …

    An epistemic naturalist thinks that supernatural ideas are incoherent. A metaphysical naturalist thinks that the world is natural.

    1) Incoherent means something, doesn’t it? What is incoherent about, for example, turning water to wine or walking on water?
    2) Does the distinction make a difference? If we dispense with all supernatural ideas (incoherent ones?) aren’t we left with a natural world by default?
    3) Is it fair to equate epistemic naturalism with methodological naturalism, the “scientific” (pardon the quotation marks!) approach to epistemology?

    I’m an epistemic naturalist because I think the supernatural is all about “fundamentally, ontologically, irreducibly mental entities” and that no one has any idea how we would detect such a thing or what our world would look like with one, even in principle, which makes for a not truth-apt and therefore meaningless statement

    You’ve expressed a number of beliefs that I find hard to imagine were established via scientific means. No one has any idea how we would detect a supernatural entity? What’s the epistemological process behind that statement??

    On the mental aspect of the supernatural:
    … I just appeal to the consensus of Richard Carrier, Victor Reppert, and Eliezer Yudkowsky.

    Eh. That “consensus” seems illusory. Reppert suggests that naturalism leaves no room at all for the mental. It isn’t that supernatural events themselves are fundamentally mental (hard to express that one without ambiguity, sorry). Reppert is making a serious attack on the meaning of reason for the naturalist. Carrier, it seems to me, is simply playing with fire. I’ll be surprised if many atheist philosophers buy into his view. Carrier’s saying that when I praise you for being smart I might as well praise the interactions of matter ultimately responsible for your behavior. Carrier appears to agree that we can test supernatural claims (like “this stick, when thrown on the ground, will turn into a snake; when picked up again it will revert to a stick”). And one more fly in the ointment: mental activity is not necessarily cartesian (I would argue) in the supernaturalist view. It seems possible for the physical mind to perfectly (and simultaneously) match the subjective features of the mind. And one could find Reppert’s mental activity in such a mind. The key difference is that the physical mind does not follow rigid laws of physics but rather exhibits “random” (mathematically random but potentially following a course of logic and reason) patterns.

    I hope that part’s more than halfway clear. :-/

    I don’t think the worlds have actually infinite pasts

    That mostly settles that issue, then. But do note that I talked of an infinite series of events. There is a hard dichotomy between an infinite series of events and a finite one. And the infinite series strongly implies infinite time. Some use relativity as dodge for the implications of the Kalam argument. But Craig is careful to refer to events rather than time itself. Can an infinite succession of events take anything less than an infinite amount of time? It’s Zeno’s paradox without the concept of the potential infinite to help us out.

    Many Worlds doesn’t reconcile randomness with determinism, it states that randomness doesn’t exist.

    It’s hard to see how that follows. Would you have to empirically confirm that we had no repeating worlds (500 of world X and a mere 13 of world Y) in order to deny randomness? I doubt that’s possible even in principle. World X(1) would look exactly like world X(2) so it would be impossible to differentiate between the two. But more to the point, Many-Worlds, if it negates randomness, equally negates causal determinism. You either have a random distribution of traditionally causally determined universes with different outcomes, differing universes with identical starting conditions or some combination of the two. Probably I should just click the link. ;-)

    I will ask that when there are cases that you know of specific relevant passages in the works you cite that you attempt to identify them (page number, something). Referring repeatedly to substantial written works in defense of your arguments has the effect, whether you intend it that way or not, of stonewalling. That said, I’m not lazy when it comes to arguing. Point me in the right direction and I’ll do the reading and/or research. I’m just asking that you don’t make it unnecessarily burdensome. :-)

    Good site, helpful link:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-manyworlds/

    I’ll just say that introducing an infinite number of worlds to explain away quantum randomness seems to run against Occam’s razor. ;-)

    Oh, and I thought you’d find this statement near the end interesting/relevant:
    Many physicists and philosophers believe that the most serious weakness of the MWI (and especially of its version presented here) is that it “gives up trying to explain things”

    I answered a bit out of order–hope that’s not a problem. I may sift through for other things to address, but I’ll go ahead and publish …

  46. #46 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    30 Dec 2011, 2:28 am  

    I answered a bit out of order–hope that’s not a problem.

    Not a problem at all. Actually, I’m going to do the same (as I usually do) because I feel like solving disagreements in some areas will automatically clear up and answer in other areas.

    ~

    How Should “Supernatural” be Defined?

    My definition of the supernatural is the involvement of “fundamentally, ontologically, irreducibly mental entities” (henceforth known in this comment as “the mental”). It’s a bit difficult to argue for this definition since you’ve given no alternate definition for me to either accept or compete with. However, I think there is some confusion I can clear up here.

    Reppert suggests that naturalism leaves no room at all for the mental. It isn’t that supernatural events themselves are fundamentally mental (hard to express that one without ambiguity, sorry). Reppert is making a serious attack on the meaning of reason for the naturalist.

    That is Reppert’s argument, but Reppert also accepts the definition I use of supernatural — see Reppert’s blog post “On defining the natural and supernatural”, which I’m rather certain is his most recent stance on the definition issue.

    ~

    Carrier’s saying that when I praise you for being smart I might as well praise the interactions of matter ultimately responsible for your behavior.

    The issue at question here is the thesis of reductionism — Carrier and I both argue that things like consciousness can in principle be described completely and fully as an arrangement of the nonmental, such as neurons etc. The mind comes from the brain, which is completely physical / not mental.

    If reductionism is false, then consciousness would be the result of something else, such as a fundamentally, irreducibly, ontologically mental entity. Reppert accepts this definition because he is arguing against reductionism and in favor of these kind of entities.

    That being said, your analysis of the implications of the reductionist view are false, so no Carrier is not actually saying what you think he is. Even if intelligence is the result of having neurons arranged to interact in a specific way, this does not mean that your personal actions (studying, researching, reading, etc.) were not at least partially responsible for giving rise to this arrangement.

    Thus praise is properly placed upon the person, and not the interactions of matter. Though some praise is also rightly placed on good parenting, a good educational system, or just plain old good genetics.

    ~

    Carrier appears to agree that we can test supernatural claims (like “this stick, when thrown on the ground, will turn into a snake; when picked up again it will revert to a stick”).

    Let’s look at the stick-to-snake claim. Yes, this is testable — we can throw it many times and constantly observe the interaction. But why does the interaction take place, and how do we know?

    The stick-to-snake process could be a yet undiscovered law or type of physics that can explain this transmogrification in completely physical terms. Just because we don’t know it exists yet doesn’t mean it can’t exist, so the stick-to-snake process is not inherently supernatural. It is only supernatural if it is in principle unexplainable in physical terms.

    Thus if you call the stick-to-snake process as supernatural because it violates the laws of physics as currently understood, then you’re making a straw man out of naturalism, which would become the position that all naturalists believe that our current understanding of the laws of physics is the entirely correct and complete understanding. While finding a law that allows for stick-to-snake processes is very unlikely, it can’t be ruled out.

    So I suggest that you’re placing the natural – supernatural distinction in the wrong place — I think it’s more useful to place it at the “why” instead of the “how”. If the stick-to-snake is caused by physical laws, that’s reductionism with the nonmental. If the stick-to-snake is caused by God’s will to give rise to a miracle, that’s the mental.

    I’m not sure if Carrier would agree with me on whether the “why” concept of supernaturalism is incoherent, though. More on this in the next comment.

    ~

    And one more fly in the ointment: mental activity is not necessarily cartesian (I would argue) in the supernaturalist view. It seems possible for the physical mind to perfectly (and simultaneously) match the subjective features of the mind. And one could find Reppert’s mental activity in such a mind. The key difference is that the physical mind does not follow rigid laws of physics but rather exhibits “random” (mathematically random but potentially following a course of logic and reason) patterns.

    I’m going to need you to clarify what it means to have a pattern that is “mathematically random but potentially following a course of logic and reason” — it leaves me perplexed.

    I’m going to assume you’re using random in the actual/pure/true/real-world sense, not the epistemic/probability/uncertainty/in-our-heads sense. If so, it seems you are making one of these two assertions:

    (1) There is a distinction between the deterministically nonmental and the indeterministically nonmental, and naturalism reduces things to the deterministically nonmental, and thus the “indeterministically nonmental” should count as supernatural.

    (2) The nonmental must be deterministic, so any randomness is an indication of the mental, because only the mental can give rise to random phenomena.

    If you’re saying (1), I think you do disagree with Reppert. I also don’t see any reason why randomness couldn’t be a part of a physical law in principle, it’s just that randomness/indeterminism turns out to be incoherent and is discarded.

  47. #47 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    30 Dec 2011, 3:08 am  

    What’s So Incoherent About The Supernatural?

    1) Incoherent means something, doesn’t it?

    Yes. Perhaps I need a terminology clean-up to be more precise and clear, but I’ve been using incoherent to mean something we cannot speak of meaningfully. Generally, this is any of the three following qualities:

    The statement is not a proposition. We can only speak of claims if they are actually claims. Statements like “Close the door!” or “Aardvark” are indeed things we can talk about within propositions and do indeed have meaning themselves, but they do not assert anything about the world and thus cannot be spoken of in that sense.

    The statement involves unknown or excessively vague terms. Obviously we cannot speak to whether “snaffles are typically red” until we know what snaffles are, and likewise we have no idea if “renzlers can sometimes be garblaxian”. But this doesn’t have to be so clear-cut — something like “I have free will” or “Morality exists” sounds fine, until you realize we don’t really know what free will or morality is in a precise enough manner to discuss. Typically we have to substitute them for something else, like “I have the ability to make choices” or “A compelling reason to refrain from murder exists”.

    The statement is otherwise not truth-apt. We can only speak about the world in terms of what is and what is not, and this involves finding an empirical difference between is and is not in principle. Statements like “an Cartesian Demon is deceiving me” or “Solipsism is true” are propositions that involve well-defined terms but still cannot be given truth values because we do not know the difference between a solipsist and a non-solipsist world, even in principle.

    ~

    What is incoherent about, for example, turning water to wine or walking on water?

    There’s nothing about observing these events that is incoherent, the trouble comes when explaining why these events take place. The events are not supernatural by my definition, its the explanations that are.

    Water to wine or walking on water are all like the stick-to-snake phenomena in the earlier comment — is it based on an unknown physical law, or on something else entirely?

    The incoherence of these explanations comes from the incoherence of positing something that is not a physical law. How do we know whether something is a yet unknown physical law versus something else, without discovering that law? No difference between these two things indicates a statement that is not truth-apt.

    Additionally, it might imply invoking an explanation like “it was caused by a miracle, which suspended physical laws and allowed this event to take place”. Ok, well how does one suspend a physical law? What laws, if any, govern the suspension of physical laws? How do things undergo change with no laws to govern the change? How can something be lawless? What does it even mean to not have laws? All these questions indicates a statement that involves an unknown or excessively vague term.

    ~

    2) Does the distinction make a difference?

    Yes, because it’s a distinction between a set of coherent concepts and a set of incoherent concepts.

    ~

    If we dispense with all supernatural ideas (incoherent ones?) aren’t we left with a natural world by default?

    Depends on what you mean by “natural world”, which I think is also excessively vague, ironically.

    If we dispense with all incoherent ideas, we will have a world that is only governed by physical laws, and a world where everything reduces to the nonmental. This, however, does not mean our world cannot contain stick-to-snake phenomena.

    ~

    3) Is it fair to equate epistemic naturalism with methodological naturalism, the “scientific” (pardon the quotation marks!) approach to epistemology?

    Not really, but they definitely are closely related. Methodological naturalism seems to not care about whether supernatural explanations are coherent, but simply asserts that supernatural explanations cannot play a role in the scientific research program for whatever reason.

    However, I think when you look into the motivations behind methodological naturalism — why it is that supernatural explanations are rejected by science — you will find it’s because of the incoherence. This would give us the following equation: “We adopt methodological naturalism because epistemic naturalism is true.” Epistemic naturalism implies methodological naturalism.

    ~

    You’ve expressed a number of beliefs that I find hard to imagine were established via scientific means.

    Of course. As I argue in “The Spectre of Scientism”, it is impossible to only hold beliefs that are established via scientific means.

    But science is not the only way we can know beliefs are true. We can also use logic (including philosophy and math), history, and personal observation. I don’t think you’ll ever find a belief I hold that wasn’t established using these four methods.

    ~

    No one has any idea how we would detect a supernatural entity? What’s the epistemological process behind that statement?

    See the whole “how do we know it isn’t just a yet-unknown physical law?” thing.

  48. #48 Bryan White says:
    30 Dec 2011, 4:44 am  

    We’re getting a bit bogged down on definitions–needlessly, I think. You can define naturalism however you like. I think you’re overstepping in crediting your view to Reppert, but it isn’t really that important. So I propose getting past this by a thought experiment. You pick, for the sake of argument, some random non-mental event with no physical explanation, such as uncaused quantum particle formation or Krauss’ universe-from-literally nothing and tell me whether those count as naturalistic or not.

    It seems to me that you would count both as naturalistic, which seems to me absurd. If both are naturalistic in your view, then it appears to follow that a completely chaotic universe lacking any mental events at all is also naturalistic despite a wholesale lack of explanation via natural processes or law. Certainly that seems to conflict with traditional definitions of naturalism. Your call.

  49. #49 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    30 Dec 2011, 4:51 am  

    Is Many-Worlds Implausible or Improbable?

    But do note that I talked of an infinite series of events. There is a hard dichotomy between an infinite series of events and a finite one.

    Sure. I don’t think there’s been an infinite series of events, either. I don’t think time is infinitely divisible, for reasons related to both planck time and the B-theory of time, both of which I only sort of understand.

    ~

    Would you have to empirically confirm that we had no repeating worlds (500 of world X and a mere 13 of world Y) in order to deny randomness? I doubt that’s possible even in principle.

    I don’t understand, what is it about repeating worlds that implies randomness?

    ~

    But more to the point, Many-Worlds, if it negates randomness, equally negates causal determinism. You either have a random distribution of traditionally causally determined universes with different outcomes, differing universes with identical starting conditions or some combination of the two.

    I’m not quite getting the implications of this. Quantum mechanics is definitely one of the ideas that really forces us into the more complex, less intuitive looks at causality, such as the B-Theory of Time, but I don’t see how that reflects negatively on naturalism.

    ~

    I’ll just say that introducing an infinite number of worlds to explain away quantum randomness seems to run against Occam’s razor. ;-)

    Luckily enough I understand this criticism, and it seems easily deflated: MWI actually wins very well on Occam’s razor, because it does not need to postulate something as complicated and radically different from current notions as true randomness, action-at-a-distance, and the observation effect. Sure, the infinite worlds are entities that are multiplied, but they are not multiplied unnecessarily.

    ~

    Good site, helpful link:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-manyworlds/

    Definitely helpful, though there is tons more to learn.

    ~

    Oh, and I thought you’d find this statement near the end interesting/relevant:
    Many physicists and philosophers believe that the most serious weakness of the MWI (and especially of its version presented here) is that it “gives up trying to explain things”

    It’s a relevant complaint, but what is it that Many-Worlds is not explaining?

    ~

    I will ask that when there are cases that you know of specific relevant passages in the works you cite that you attempt to identify them (page number, something). Referring repeatedly to substantial written works in defense of your arguments has the effect, whether you intend it that way or not, of stonewalling.

    I agree with you that it is stonewalling. But the reason is that I don’t understand quantum mechanics. Very few people do. Right now, I am not equipped to defend any interpretation of quantum mechanics, and I have no idea what is going on. But MWI seems plausible enough and the Copenhagen Interpretation seems the target of additionally heavy criticism. If I were to suggest a link, it would be “If Many-Worlds Had Come First”.

    So I don’t see any need to abandon large swaths of my worldview yet. The world is completely deterministic. And even if it wasn’t, that doesn’t mean that we have contra-casual free will. And even if we do, that doesn’t mean irreducibly mental things exist or can stand in as valid explanations. And even if they could, that doesn’t mean God exists. And even if he did, that doesn’t mean Christianity is true.

    Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t get back to the heart of the matter. Agreeing with Joseph, why do you think randomness plays any sort of role in consciousness? How does that do anything to shed light on subjective experience?

  50. #50 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    30 Dec 2011, 5:07 am  

    We’re getting a bit bogged down on definitions–needlessly, I think.

    As what usually happens with definitions, as much as I try to avoid it. I’m still interested in what you define the supernatural to be.

    ~

    You can define naturalism however you like.

    Well, I could, but I don’t want to be confusing, and I want to actually have a view that properly reflects what is going on with the world.

    ~

    So I propose getting past this by a thought experiment. You pick, for the sake of argument, some random non-mental event with no physical explanation, such as uncaused quantum particle formation or Krauss’ universe-from-literally nothing and tell me whether those count as naturalistic or not.

    I still think you’re being slightly misleading about Krauss — whatever his theory is, it certainly isn’t “poof”. That being said, whether or not these things are “natural”, I would be willing to say that both examples do not occur. In my understanding of the world, things do not come from nothing and things do not arise uncaused. The demonstration of these things would require me to re-evaluate how a lot of things work because they don’t make sense right now.

    But I don’t understand quantum mechanics, cosmogenesis, causality, or time very well. I would like to within a year, but I haven’t written anything about it. So here’s a few other propositions I would defend as true:

    (1) God does not exist.
    (2) Souls do not exist.
    (3) God as a concept does not explain why or how the universe exists.
    (4) Souls as a concept do not explain consciousness.
    (5) Spirits, magic, and the devil all do not exist.
    (6) Miracles don’t happen and never did happen.
    (7) Physical laws cannot be suspended and have never been suspended.

    Does that help?

  51. #51 Bryan White says:
    30 Dec 2011, 5:38 am  

    Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t get back to the heart of the matter. Agreeing with Joseph, why do you think randomness plays any sort of role in consciousness?

    How did that get to be the heart of the matter? :-)

    I think apparent randomness is necessary to libertarian free will. I think compatibilism is bunkum. That’s all, apart from true randomness failing to jibe with traditional notions of naturalism.

    I would be willing to say that both examples do not occur.

    That ends up looking like a curious reluctance to perform a simple thought experiment. Do they not occur because they are impossible? And if they are impossible then why? And if they are possible then why not go along with the thought experiment and let me know whether or not the two would-be examples are naturalistic?

    Allow me to stress that I am asking you to consider these examples simply for the sake of argument. You don’t need to mess with your worldview at all just yet. It’s just a test of your definition of naturalism.

    I still think you’re being slightly misleading about Krauss

    I don’t think so. But if you can provide evidence of how I “slightly” mislead about Krauss’ view I’d love to consider it.

    http://www.amazon.com/Universe-Nothing-There-Something-Rather/dp/145162445X
    http://subloviate.blogspot.com/2011/01/nothing-isnt-nothing.html

    Does that help?

    It gives me a picture of your comfort zone for argument, anyway (not to say you’re necessarily uncomfortable outside that zone). Your arguments stem from various premisses you hold as true. I’m interested in prodding them a bit to test their consistency.

  52. #52 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    8 Jan 2012, 1:07 am  

    Sorry for the delay in responding:

    I think apparent randomness is necessary to libertarian free will. I think compatibilism is bunkum. That’s all, apart from true randomness failing to jibe with traditional notions of naturalism.

    But that’s just it — I think you’re wrong here, and it’s a good point of contention to discuss. How does randomness give us free will? It means that our actions are uncaused, not caused by our mental processes or our character. This is why I think the only way to have free will is compatibilism — see “Free Will That Makes Sense”.

    ~

    And if they are possible then why not go along with the thought experiment and let me know whether or not the two would-be examples are naturalistic?

    Because naturalism, at least for me and what I understand the position of some others to be, is about the underlying explanation for the event, not the event itself. I refer back to my discussion of the “stick-to-snake” — the event could happen provided our current understanding of physics is radically false or incomplete, which is exceedingly unlikely, but not impossible. Saying that the event could be caused by divine will, however, is not coherent — how does divine will make something happen? Why not just say it’s caused by fhwgwqd?

    ~

    Do they not occur because they are impossible? And if they are impossible then why?

    My reason for ruling out randomness and something from nothing is that they are both uncaused phenomena, and I don’t understand how uncaused phenomena can arise — if nothing causes the event, that means the event is not dependent upon any change in environment to precipitate it, so how do random events happen at certain times?

    I think the universe is a bit different and much more difficult to understand because there were no intervals of time prior to the origin of the universe, so there was no “nothing” prior to the “something”, as this essay points out. The universe didn’t pop in, because that requires time where the universe wasn’t around, and there’s no such time.

    Again, I reiterate that I don’t have a solid grasp of this area yet, but it’s a priority for me this year to get one.

    ~

    Allow me to stress that I am asking you to consider these examples simply for the sake of argument. You don’t need to mess with your worldview at all just yet. It’s just a test of your definition of naturalism.

    Sure, sorry if I’m coming off as edgy or defensive, but I have obvious trouble holding my ground on issues I don’t have any sort of grasp of. I’m still interested in what you think a suitable definition of naturalism or supernaturalism would be.

    ~

    But if you can provide evidence of how I “slightly” mislead about Krauss’ view I’d love to consider it.

    I’m awaiting his book — it’s coming out in a few days, and some of it is already searchable on Amazon. With the snippets I can read and the article “A Universe From Nothing”, It seems that Krauss advocates that our universe is a zero-energy universe, which means it can come into existence via inflation with a very minimal amount of energy, such as the energy provided by quantum vacuum fluctuations / virtual particles.

    I cannot wrap my head around it — yet. I don’t know if it’s true. But it’s remotely plausible and involves some mechanisms, though I don’t know what accounts for virtual particles. From my understanding, you talk about “something from nothing” like it’s obviously logically impossible, but upon further reflection, I think I was just misreading you, and I apologize.

    ~

    Your arguments stem from various premisses you hold as true. I’m interested in prodding them a bit to test their consistency.

    Please keep doing so.

  53. #53 Bryan White says:
    8 Jan 2012, 2:56 am  

    (delay is not a problem. I’m patient to a fault)

    I think you’re wrong here, and it’s a good point of contention to discuss. How does randomness give us free will? It means that our actions are uncaused, not caused by our mental processes or our character.

    It’s a good point of discussion but it’s off the topic we’ve started (and I prefer the one we’ve started). In brief, it is not randomness that gives us free will. Apparent randomness simply frees us from causal determinism, which is an absolute requirement for a incompatibilist model (which is obvious). And randomness does not equal “uncaused.” There are models of indeterministic causation. You can read about them at that fine Stanford site we reference earlier. I was interested to find that Daniel Dennett, of all people, earlier in his career recognized a model similar to the one Kane advocates as a potential avenue for free will. Dennett’s later arguments leave a great deal to be desired, IMHO. Pardon me if I don’t visit your version of the argument. If I haven’t seen it all then it’s at least getting pretty close.

    (N)aturalism, at least for me and what I understand the position of some others to be, is about the underlying explanation for the event, not the event itself. I refer back to my discussion of the “stick-to-snake” — the event could happen provided our current understanding of physics is radically false or incomplete, which is exceedingly unlikely, but not impossible. Saying that the event could be caused by divine will, however, is not coherent — how does divine will make something happen? Why not just say it’s caused by fhwgwqd?

    Your answer wrt the thought experiment begs the question. Your mention of a divine will skips ahead to a different issue, leaving the thought experiment behind. Perhaps fhwgwgd is incoherent on account of your definition of naturalism. And that would further beg the question (defining the problem condition out of existence). It seems that if an uncaused event is possible then it is inexplicable in terms of causation (and does not meet the definition of “natural” under your definition of naturalism). If the flirtation with tautology doesn’t convince you then I can probably express it as a deductive syllogism. ;-)

    In sum, if uncaused events are possible then what category do we place them in other than “supernatural” if they do not fit the category of the natural?

    if nothing causes the event, that means the event is not dependent upon any change in environment to precipitate it, so how do random events happen at certain times?

    Um–randomly, I should think, unless I’m misunderstanding you. :-)

    Imagine a pool table. It has a cue ball on it. It has an 8-ball on it. Imagine the cue stick drives the cue ball into the 8-ball in a series of identical trials at the precisely identical vector and force (from identical starting locations). Yet the 8 ball goes in the left pocket 80 times out of 100 trials and into the right pocket the other 20 times. Obviously this forces you to think outside the naturalistic paradigm. But given that these results are strictly logically possible (they are not logically contradictory), what do you make of it? Is the movement of the 8-ball uncaused?

    (T)here was no “nothing” prior to the “something”, as this essay points out. The universe didn’t pop in, because that requires time where the universe wasn’t around, and there’s no such time.

    I think the reference to time was developed as a dodge (not developed by you, mind you–you’ve doubtless read it from others and decided it makes sense). Time isn’t the only way something can be prior to something else. Things can be logically prior regardless of time in the sense you’re using it. A cosmological model (such as what I say Krauss is saying), if it posits a universe arising from literally nothing then has nothing as a (logically) prior condition for any subsequent (resulting) condition regardless of any passage of time. Mathematicians and physicists offer that more than one temporal dimension exists, moreover. Thus it isn’t clear that conditions such as those described by Krauss would be indescribable in terms of another temporal dimension. “Time” in a different sense, if you will.

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0812.3869

    I’m still interested in what you think a suitable definition of naturalism or supernaturalism would be.

    I think the traditional definition (the one you’ll see in dictionaries and encyclopedias) is fine. And it’s contradicted by random generation of quantum particles and in a remarkably tight spot in terms of cosmology. And I don’t ordinarily find “supernatural” a useful term. In my discussions with atheists it seems to mean something like “things that don’t happen” or the like. It doesn’t make for productive discussions. So I take the approach of letting you define “naturalism” and then seeing if there are logical possibilities and/or observed phenomena for which we need a term other than “natural.” If you think about it, what people ordinarily describe as “magic” is perfectly natural according to your descriptions. The potions from Hogwarts are akin to chemical formulas and act in predictable (causal) ways when prepared properly. Does Harry Potter use supernatural arts? Or no?

    I appreciate you again taking the time to reply. It’s hard work communicating across a worldview divide, so your apology, while appreciated, isn’t necessary. You’re obviously working at it in earnest and that’s the most anyone can ask.

    Cheers.

  54. #54 joseph says:
    8 Jan 2012, 8:33 am  

    “Imagine a pool table. It has a cue ball on it. It has an 8-ball on it. Imagine the cue stick drives the cue ball into the 8-ball in a series of identical trials at the precisely identical vector and force (from identical starting locations). Yet the 8 ball goes in the left pocket 80 times out of 100 trials and into the right pocket the other 20 times. Obviously this forces you to think outside the naturalistic paradigm. But given that these results are strictly logically possible (they are not logically contradictory), what do you make of it? Is the movement of the 8-ball uncaused?”
    A minor point, but this analogy works better if the number 8 ball has an unknown position and momentum, within well defined limits.

  55. #55 joseph says:
    8 Jan 2012, 11:25 am  

    @Bryan White
    Also you say that:
    ‘ And randomness does not equal “uncaused” ‘

    If I’m not mistaken, you’ve also said something along the lines that random behaviour being described by laws (even probabilistic ones, it seemed) is contradictory, and thus argued that laws do not provided sufficient explanation for virtual particles, thus they are uncaused. Now, I admit, I am both struggling to understand and feel like I’m butting in…so if you don’t want to respond no problem.

  56. #56 joseph says:
    8 Jan 2012, 11:33 am  

    @Peter
    Peter with a sufficiently strong magnetic field (more energy than is in our universe) couldn’t you keep a wormhole open long enough to swap a snake and a stick?

    Or by a series if chemical and probably nuclear reactions, moving molecules around one by one, convert a stick, again stealing some constituents from what’s handy, to a snake?

    I mean of course the energy released would probably nuke Egypt, and then we would get into an argument over whether it’s a miracle, if described by known physical laws, but hey….transmutation is now possible (we just know we can’t do it with a philosopher’s stone now).

  57. #57 Bryan White says:
    8 Jan 2012, 12:51 pm  

    @ Joseph, who wrote:

    A minor point, but this analogy works better if the number 8 ball has an unknown position and momentum, within well defined limits.

    You’d doubtless be correct if I was making an analogy to quantum particle formation. But that’s not what I’m up to. Rather, I’m trying to create a scenario for the sake of argument to illustrate non-deterministic causation (using the generally accepted definition of something that increases the probability of a given occurrence). To illustrate the quantum phenomenon by analogy I need naught but the 8-ball.

  58. #58 Bryan White says:
    8 Jan 2012, 12:59 pm  

    Joseph also wrote:

    If I’m not mistaken, you’ve also said something along the lines that random behaviour being described by laws (even probabilistic ones, it seemed) is contradictory, and thus argued that laws do not provided sufficient explanation for virtual particles, thus they are uncaused.

    Good catch, in a way, but that’s explained by consideration of the context. I’m a theist, so I have no problem seeing quantum particles as the work of god, angels, whatever. I am working to speak the language of the non-theist.

    And by way of further explanation, you can have a “law” of randomness that states x will happen 80 percent of the time while ~x will happen the remaining percent of the time. What that provides the naturalist is a fig leaf covering the fact that he doesn’t know what causes ~x to happen vs. x. That type of law, in the final analysis, does not permit complete explanations for apparently random phenomena.

  59. #59 joseph says:
    9 Jan 2012, 1:32 pm  

    @Bryan White,

    Ok, thanks I see where you are going with the analogy more clearly. But now I am having problems clearly linking it to the quantum virtual particles situation, where there are so many unknowables (as they cannot be measured without uncertainty, by our best current theory of physics). The other comment, though perhaps less helpful, is that yes, in the real world there is an uncertainty in the position and momentum of a large object like a snooker ball, so yes, when you hit a snooker ball it does go in an unpredictable direction. The uncertainties for the snooker ball are of course tiny, and of little practical use.

    As far as I can tell all of these uncertainties exist for a very practical pirpose, that is measuring always effects the measured. Put a thermometer into a bucket of water, you will lower the temperature. Measure the speed of the car, you will lower the speed. Whack a hydrogen atom with a photon of UV frequency, you will alter it’s momentum. This does, I think, agree with you in limiting what can be explained, as it limits what can be observed, what can be known. We can’t test beyond the heisenberg uncertainty, but we can use it to make falsifiable predictions.

    I am having some trouble seeing why inserting Angels, God/s, as an explanation, adds to the explanation, I know it’s boring, I know it’s always said, but would there be any falsifiable statment/predictions that we could use to test that hypothesis? I seem to be missing a step in induction from random to spiritual (?), supernaural (?), disembodied (?) conscious beings (the bracketted question marks are there because I don’t know how these reflect your position). I don’t really see it clearer if I take a theist, or atheist, point of view…

  60. #60 joseph says:
    9 Jan 2012, 1:40 pm  

    “And by way of further explanation, you can have a “law” of randomness that states x will happen 80 percent of the time while ~x will happen the remaining percent of the time. What that provides the naturalist is a fig leaf covering the fact that he doesn’t know what causes ~x to happen vs. x. That type of law, in the final analysis, does not permit complete explanations for apparently random phenomena.”

    I am quite unsure of this, let’s take a d20, steal it from a d & d player, we can say 80% of the time it will land on 1-16 (call this x) and 20% on 17-20 (call this x~), do we lack a physical explanation as to why? We know both why x and x~ occur, and why x is 4 times more probable the x~.

  61. #61 Bryan White says:
    9 Jan 2012, 2:09 pm  

    Twofer for Joseph …

    I am having some trouble seeing why inserting Angels, God/s, as an explanation, adds to the explanation

    In the present case alluding to gods and angels simply makes clear that I do not equate the lack of a causally determined explanation with randomness (otherwise I could reasonably be accused of contradicting myself). “Explanation” to a philosophical naturalist, at least in my experience, means a naturalistic cause. So of course alluding to things the naturalist rejects do not add to the explanation. However, such explanations have potential advantages in terms of parsimony.

    I am quite unsure of this, let’s take a d20, steal it from a d & d player, we can say 80% of the time it will land on 1-16 (call this x) and 20% on 17-20 (call this x~), do we lack a physical explanation as to why?

    Wasn’t it you who correctly agreed with me that the roll of a die is a simulation of randomness? There’s nothing to cover up in this case, under philosophical naturalism. The laws that determine the die roll, the naturalist would say, are perfectly deterministic. They’re simply too complicated for us to foretell in terms of results. That isn’t the case with true randomness.

  62. #62 joseph says:
    9 Jan 2012, 11:18 pm  

    @Byan White

    Yeah, sorry my conversation isn’t up to Peter’s level! Seems like I’m the only one around, but anyway, I feel I’m gaining from it!

    “Wasn’t it you who correctly agreed with me that the roll of a die is a simulation of randomness?”

    Yes, you’re thinking like me now. So the result of the die is, apparently random, (perhaps if I used a German word for random, google says…zufällig, I would seem more philosophical), because of both some unknown data, and the complexity of the calculations involved.

    A virtual particle would, to me, seem random, because not only are the required data unknown, but, due to the way in which we, or anything/body else, would have to measure them, unknowable.

    Now, I am lamentably not an expert, or even an acolyte, when it comes to quantum physics, so I would be interested if I’ve got that arse-about face.

  63. #63 joseph says:
    9 Jan 2012, 11:24 pm  

    @Byan White

    Yeah, sorry my conversation isn’t up to Peter’s level! Seems like I’m the only one around, but anyway, I feel I’m gaining from it!

    “Wasn’t it you who correctly agreed with me that the roll of a die is a simulation of randomness?”

    Yes, you’re thinking like me now. So the result of the die is, apparently random, (perhaps if I used a German word for random, google says…zufällig, I would seem more philosophical), because of both some unknown data, and the complexity of the calculations involved.

    A virtual particle would, to me, seem random, because not only are the required data unknown, but, due to the way in which we, or anything/body else, would have to measure them, unknowable.

    Now, I am lamentably not an expert, or even an acolyte, when it comes to quantum physics, so I would be interested if I’ve got that arse-about-face.

    Next, the question of angels. It seems you could either say something like virtual particles are the truly random thoughts of angels. In which case, saying and judging angels as if they had free will seems unfair, as they can’t really be in control. Or, perhaps, these thoughts of angels are not truly random, but, from a human perspective appear to be (zufällig), in which case, your argument and mine intersect. Occam’s razor perhaps fav ours me, though i’ll agree it is notdecisive

  64. #64 joseph says:
    9 Jan 2012, 11:42 pm  

    “Explanation” to a philosophical naturalist, at least in my experience, means a naturalistic cause. So of course alluding to things the naturalist rejects do not add to the explanation.”

    I’m unsure again, you could have said angels are beings of energy/ so and so dimensions that can influence the world in ways x, y, z and can be communicated with. While I agree, a naturalist, would fit this in within a naturalistic template, that does not mean something that fits descripton of Angels could not be found, merely the assertation that they were beyond nature….sorry can’t write more smart phone is going dumb…

  65. #65 Bryan White says:
    10 Jan 2012, 1:56 am  

    Joseph wrote:

    A virtual particle would, to me, seem random, because not only are the required data unknown, but, due to the way in which we, or anything/body else, would have to measure them, unknowable.

    While no doubt there are some exceptions, it seems to be the holding of scientists that quantum particles represent true randomness. That’s why they’re typically classified as “uncaused” rather than simply the product of an unknown cause. Computers can now generate (it is said) true random numbers based on radioactivity.
    http://www.random.org/randomness/

    (Y)ou could have said angels are beings of energy/ so and so dimensions that can influence the world in ways x, y, z and can be communicated with.

    Good point!

    I sometimes produce undesirable confusion by mixing statements intended to appeal to the other guy’s worldview with statements intended to challenge the same. I could have made the point about Harry Potter just as well by saying that every “miracle” of the Bible might be explained away naturalistically.

    I try to pick my spots judiciously. No doubt I miss at times (hopefully not most of the time!). Sorry I contributed to your confusion.

  66. #66 joseph says:
    10 Jan 2012, 5:49 am  

    @Bryan White

    “Computers can now generate (it is said) true random numbers based on radioactivity.”

    I think the same point can be made for dice rolls, i.e. humans can use die to generate random numbers (and so could a computer with image recognition, but it’d be an inelegant means). We’ve both, I think, conceeded that, this is not a naturalistic puzzle. That is because a number, value, etc can be to all intents and purposes random, we cannot infer lack of any causation, and when a number of variables are unknown we have to be even more careful. I think the key difference between your view and mine, is I am saying these things are unknowable, unmeasurable, your view seems, please correct me, to be that this means they are non-existent.

    As William Lane Craig argued, so funny to use his argument, the energy field in a quantum vacuum is not nothing. There is a field that fluctuated around zero, and for very short time spans, in very minute locals, the energy can vary enough to produce the equivalent of particles.

    Now I am somewhat amused, as if this argument is wrong and virtual particles can be said to be acausal then maybe you are right and naturalusm collapses, or at least the A theory of time and causation, nut so do all arguments for the Creator based on a first cause….

  67. #67 joseph says:
    10 Jan 2012, 5:55 am  

    @Bryan White continued…
    So yeah, angels, I probably sounded a prig, but I don’t much want to put you into a theist corner, in the blue gloves, and me in the atheist corner, in the red gloves, I’d rather both be guys, having a cold beer, or warm bitter if you’re a Brit like me, moving to a vaguely more correct view of things…
    So, you’d rather a traditional supernatural view of angels, fair enough…so how would the angels provide the randomness, my limited imagination went to ‘thoughts of angels’, but I didn’t mean to be restrictive, I was playing with the idea…

  68. #68 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    15 Jan 2012, 12:17 am  

    (delay is not a problem. I’m patient to a fault)

    Yeah, sorry my conversation isn’t up to Peter’s level! Seems like I’m the only one around, but anyway, I feel I’m gaining from it!

    Yeah, I was away at a one-week conference and did not have internet access. I’m going to be catching up with the comments in the next few days and getting back to writing essays for Wednesday, as I said in “Skipping the Week Again”.

    But I’m glad it didn’t really matter, and I’m glad you two were able to have a great conversation without my input!

    And Joseph; I think you’re doing just fine!

  69. #69 Bryan White says:
    15 Jan 2012, 3:49 am  

    (picking back up after a delay of my own)

    Joseph wrote:

    I think the key difference between your view and mine, is I am saying these things are unknowable, unmeasurable, your view seems, please correct me, to be that this means they are non-existent.

    Yes, non-existent in the sense of not following lawful behavior in the traditional naturalistic sense. True randomness is qualitatively different from every type of (traditional) naturalistic randomness. The latter is always predictable in principle (if you knew the starting conditions sufficiently well you know how the die roll comes out), while the former is unpredictable in principle based on starting conditions.

    As William Lane Craig argued, so funny to use his argument, the energy field in a quantum vacuum is not nothing.

    Right, but the energy field in its turn provides the challenge of providing a naturalistic explanation. I’m pretty sure Craig argues that things don’t come from nothing. So that would pit Craig against Krauss. Krauss would say nothing is precisely what you need to have a universe like this one! ;-)

    Now I am somewhat amused, as if this argument is wrong and virtual particles can be said to be acausal then maybe you are right and naturalusm collapses, or at least the A theory of time and causation, nut so do all arguments for the Creator based on a first cause….

    Well, no, that doesn’t follow. The scientist concludes “uncaused” simply because he can’t come up with an explanation in terms of naturalism. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be caused by something non-naturalistic (and this is where the pool table analogy serves). There’s nothing in the science to disprove a non-natural explanation. All it does is make a natural explanation look exceedingly unlikely.

    how would the angels provide the randomness

    By magic? :-)

    Seriously, if you want a naturalistic explanation then your question is incoherent (you want a naturalistic explanation of a non-naturalistic phenomenon). There is no naturalistic “how” for non-naturalistic phenomena. If there were then we’d call the phenomena naturalistic. If mind states correlate to intentional action in a non-naturalistic way, though, we’d have the “supernatural” as Peter defines it. And libertarian free will at the same time (once we met a few more criteria).

    And wb, Peter. Hope your conference was highly satisfactory.

    Cheers.

  70. #70 joseph says:
    15 Jan 2012, 1:11 pm  

    I’m kinda knackered from playing with femoral heads so I’m going to be lazy and quote a little bertrand russell:

    ‘In the world of pure physics there are a number of fundamental occurrences which cannot at present be reduced to law. No ones knows why some atoms of a radioactive element disintegrate while others do mot; we know statistical averages, but what goes on in the individual atom is completely obscure. Again, the spectrum of an element is caused by electrons jumping from one possible orbit to another. We know a great deal about the possible orbits, and about what happens when a jump takes place, and about the proportion that choose one possible jump as compared to those that choose another. But we do not know what (if anything) decides the particular moment at which an electron jumps, or the particular jump it makes when several are possible. Here, again, it is statistical averages that we know. It is therefore open to anybody to say that, while averages are open to law, the actions of individual electrons have a certain range of caprice, within which there is no evidence for the reign of law. A man who maintained such a view dogmatically would be very rash, since tomorrow he might be refuted by some new discovery. But a man who merely maintains that, in the presemt state of physics, it is a possibility to be borne in mind, is displaying a proper scientific caution. Thus even within the pure physics of inorganic matter the reign of law cannot be asserted to be indubitably universal.

  71. #71 Bryan White says:
    15 Jan 2012, 4:07 pm  

    Though I carry a dim view of Russell (other than respecting him as a fine writer), that quotation seems on target if I’m interpreting it correctly. The one caveat is that physics has gone well beyond what Russell knew, and it is approaching certainty that law does not explain the randomness observed at the quantum level. Physicists do not use “random” and “causeless” carelessly.

    Femoral heads? Human or otherwise???? :-)

    Good luck with that stuff, whatever the case. I remember one doctor I was talking with, said part of his lab work consisted of identifying bones merely by feel. He said it was tough to judge between a juvenile femur and and adult humerus, iirc.

  72. #72 joseph says:
    16 Jan 2012, 4:04 am  

    Pomeranian femoral heads, because of inbreeding, plus no selection pressure for athleticism, their hips, and knees are a disaster zone. They near enough spontaneously dislocate. Sometimes, after exploring a few different options (it doesn’t help that most dog owners think bandages work by osmosis, in that if the bandage is on the dog, even if the injured leg is free, then the bandage will work) sometimes the kindest thing to do is to remove the femoral head and neck. Most pedigree breeds are not as healthy as their mixed brethren. My poor shoulders are however in knots after the proceedure, and your hands cramp up (no nice fancy electric oscillating saws for us).

    I thought that Bertrand quote should be acceptable!

    “energy field in its turn provides the challenge of providing a naturalistic explanation” bit confused by this, the energy field should surely correspond to something like Aristotle’s “material cause”, or maybe a sufficient cause, I find philosophical terminology a little wishy-washy at times…and possibly I can’t use it (in my brain I go with the explanation that makes me less of a moron). That is energy is enough to produce matter (or matter is enough to produce energy).

    I am also lost on the subject of causation, surely we infer causation from watching the natural world (x precedes y, in time), if we find an acausal event in nature I think I’d rethink causation.

    Also the Angels “By magic? :-)

    Seriously, if you want a naturalistic explanation then your question is incoherent (you want a naturalistic explanation of a non-naturalistic phenomenon). There is no naturalistic “how” for non-naturalistic phenomena. If there were then we’d call the phenomena naturalistic.” I am not sure if I won’t a naturalistic explanation or not, but I would like a falsifiable explanation, otherwise as ar as I can see it’s just angels vs. any other non-falsifiable explanation, daedra, djinn, gremlins, Mazda- whatever the Zoroastrian dualistic god is, kitsune, tanuki, kappa, Amaterasu. I don’t have any reason to respect, or disrespect, anybody’s non-falsifiable theory over anybody elses.

    I guess it’s an old argument, but if something is unknowable I will shrug my shoulders and walk on rather than come up with an untestable explanation.

    I am not sure if Angels (if supernatural) are testable or not, perhaps, as they are presumably conscious beings, there would be a way of contacting them, there would be (as there seems to have been in the Old Testament) ways of interacting with them … though if Jacob is anyone to go by I’m not sure if wrestling is a great way to go.

  73. #73 joseph says:
    16 Jan 2012, 4:08 am  

    Balls, missed something…on your caveat that physics has gone further…yes I see your point, but I would stack another caveat on top of your that Physicists are not particularly careful, or well educated, when it comes to philosophical claims (though I admit I am never satisfied by the “shut up and do the maths” philosophy of physics)

  74. #74 joseph says:
    16 Jan 2012, 4:11 am  

    @Peter
    Thankyou Peter Hurford,welcome back and thankyou for providing a suitably calm environment for such conversations to take place.
    Though if you like I can work on my ignorance, anti-semitism and swearing and attempt to turn it in a “Vox Dei” style blood-bath arena debte match.

  75. #75 joseph says:
    16 Jan 2012, 4:13 am  

    “won’t a naturalistic explanation” => want a naturalistic explanation, sorry that was exceptionally dense of me

  76. #76 Bryan White says:
    16 Jan 2012, 1:51 pm  

    Joseph wrote

    “energy field in its turn provides the challenge of providing a naturalistic explanation” bit confused by this

    I mean to say that the energy field itself requires some explanation as a cause (what caused the energy field to cause the quantum particle?). If there is no cause for the energy field then the quantum particle remains uncaused in a practical sense.

    I am also lost on the subject of causation, surely we infer causation from watching the natural world (x precedes y, in time), if we find an acausal event in nature I think I’d rethink causation.

    Well, yes, exactly!

    Peter (iirc) has noted that the true origin of the universe may be beyond time. And you must have noted that scientists produced the “many worlds” interpretation specifically in order to avoid randomness. Those are both food for thought.

    I would like a falsifiable explanation, otherwise as ar as I can see it’s just angels vs. any other non-falsifiable explanation, daedra, djinn, gremlins, Mazda- whatever the Zoroastrian dualistic god is, kitsune, tanuki, kappa, Amaterasu. I don’t have any reason to respect, or disrespect, anybody’s non-falsifiable theory over anybody elses.

    Couldn’t you at least start by preferring a simple non-falsifiable explanation (Occam’s razor)?

    if something is unknowable I will shrug my shoulders and walk on rather than come up with an untestable explanation.

    When do you decide something is unknowable (appears to risk knowing something unknowable, imho)?

    Physicists are not particularly careful, or well educated, when it comes to philosophical claims

    While I’m inclined to agree with you (though I’m glad you said it and not me!), randomness and causation are precisely up the physicist’s alley. They might use the terms ambiguously in everyday conversation. But physics is big on causation and big on causes. They see the implications for randomness (see “many worlds”).

    http://www.stanford.edu/dept/app-physics/cgi-bin/course/randomness-in-the-physical-world/
    http://jqi.umd.edu/news/215-random-numbers-but-not-by-chance.html
    http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.133.2208

  77. #77 joseph says:
    16 Jan 2012, 2:37 pm  

    I’ll attempt a few off the cuff answers before bed, sorry if there a bit unpolished…
    “….a simple non-falsifiable explanation”; well I guess what I am left with is there is a limit to human knowledge, somethings are unknowable.

    “when do you decide something is unknowable” well, you won’t, not truly, but when every available method you have produces an incorrect answer, for coherent reasons, you can at least say it is, in effect, unknowable at this moment in time.

    “Those are both food for thought” …indeed, I can’t say I am vastly more satisfied by atheistic explanations of the origin of thd universe.

    While I’m inclined to agree with you (though I’m glad you said it and not me!)…yes, I was a little bemused with myself. I’ll check those links tomorrow, cause seems an ambiguous word…

  78. #78 Peter Hurford (author) says:
    17 Jan 2012, 5:06 am  

    I’ve written an overly long response to all these comments in the new essay “Continuing Comments on Randomness and Naturalism”. In the interest of keeping comments organized, I’d appreciate that this current lengthy discussion be moved there.

    Comments to follow here should be more directly about the content of this essay, not about the current conversation on quantum mechanics.

  79. #79 Bryan White says:
    17 Jan 2012, 5:24 am  

    So much for our attempt to cross an actual infinite via successive addition. ;-)

  80. #80 cl says:
    15 Apr 2012, 12:08 am  

    Peter, you are distorting the truth and misinforming your readers:

    We would expect all thorough studies of prayer to turn up no results, which we do.

    As has been explained, this is false. The truth is, we have a non-trivial number of studies suggesting positive effects, and we have a non-trivial number of studies that don’t. Any claim that goes beyond this departs from healthy scientific principle, and deserves to be scrutinized and challenged. You can’t just count the misses and discard the hits.

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