Feser to Krauss: Shut up because of the Uncaused Cause

I didn’t know anything about the Witherspoon institute, where Catholic religious philosopher Edward Feser has published a strident piece called “Scientists should tell Lawrence Krauss to shut up already“, but it appears to be a right-wing think tank. According to Wikipedia:

The Witherspoon Institute opposes abortion and same-sex marriage and deals with embryonic stem cell research, constitutional law, and globalization. In 2003, it organized a conference on religion in modern societies. In 2006,Republican Senator Sam Brownback cited a Witherspoon document called Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles in a debate over a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. It held a conference about pornography named The Social Costs of Pornography at Princeton University in December 2008.

Be that as it may, reader Candide called my attention to Feser’s piece, a critique of Krauss’s recent piece in The New Yorker, “All scientists should be militant atheists” (my take on it here). Feser argues that Krauss doesn’t given any reason for scientists to be atheists, but in fact he does, in the final paragraph of Krauss’s piece:

We owe it to ourselves and to our children not to give a free pass to governments—totalitarian, theocratic, or democratic—that endorse, encourage, enforce, or otherwise legitimize the suppression of open questioning in order to protect ideas that are considered “sacred.” Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance. We should celebrate this openly and enthusiastically, regardless of whom it may offend.

That seems to me pretty clear: in science no values are sacred, and it’s abandoning the notion that any ideas are beyond question—the habit of doubt that is endemic and essential in science—that militates against religious authoritarianism, endemic to most faiths. Feser also argues, contra both Krauss and me, that the empirical propositions of religion, as opposed to its moral dicta, are not questions of science:

Krauss might reply that, unlike checkers, dentistry, or engineering, science covers all of reality; thus, if God exists, evidence for his existence ought to show up in scientific inquiry.

There are two problems with such a suggestion. First, it begs the question. Second, it isn’t true.

But if in fact one construes science broadly, as a combination of reason, empirical study, and verification, yes, existence of God should show up in “scientific” inquiry.  Since it doesn’t, religionists use the word “reason” to encompass a brew of dogma, scripture, and personal revelation. But these of course lead different people to different conceptions of god. So all the “evidence” adduced by different faiths is simply a confusing muddle of different “conclusions.”

Feser instead proposes philosophy as a way to demonstrate God, starting with the ineluctable proposition that reality is real:

[The claim that we should have empirical evidence for God] begs the question because whether science is the only rational means of investigating reality is precisely what is at issue between New Atheists like Krauss and their critics. Traditional philosophical arguments for God’s existence begin with what any possible scientific theory must take for granted—such as the thesis that there is a natural world to be studied, and that there are laws governing that world that we might uncover via scientific investigation.

To Feser, the existence of the natural world is itself evidence for God, for he keeps insisting that that world had to have a beginning, and if that beginning was the Big Bang, or even if the Big Bang had a natural origin and there are universes that spawn other universes, well, those, too must have a causal chain that, in the end terminates in God.

As far as “laws governing the world,” well, that’s a result of science, not an assumption. It’s entirely possible that some physical laws might not be constant (for example, the speed of light in a vacuum might vary throughout the universe), and if we found that out, well, that would become part of science too. Indeed, the speed of light is not a constant in other media like water or glass, so the “law” isn’t universal. Other physical laws, such as those governing molecular interactions, must exist lest we not be around to observe them. In Faith versus Fact I note that the human body depends on physical and chemical regularities to function. So yes, we’ve found regularities, but that is inevitable given that that finding itself depends on regularities in the brain: a sort of Anthropic Principle of our Body.

Imputing such regularities to a divine being, much less Feser’s Catholic and beneficent God, is no explanation at all. It’s merely saying, “We will call God the reason for the constancy of nature.” Where from these regularities can one derive a Beneficent Person without Substance—one who not only loves us all, but demands worship under threat of immolation, and opposes abortion as well?

And so Feser proves the existence of God from his usual claim: the Uncaused Cause:

The arguments claim that, whatever the specific empirical details turn out to be, the facts that there is a world at all and that there are any laws governing it cannot be made sense of unless there is an uncaused cause sustaining that world in being, a cause that exists of absolute necessity rather than merely contingently (as the world itself and the laws that govern it are merely contingent).

. . . Similarly, what science uncovers are, in effect, the “rules” that govern the “game” that is the natural world. Its domain of study is what is internal to the natural order of things. It presupposes that there is such an order, just as the rules of checkers presuppose that there are such things as checkers boards and game pieces. For that very reason, though, science has nothing to say about why there is any natural order or laws in the first place, any more than the rules of checkers tell you why there are any checkers boards or checkers rules in the first place.

Thus, science cannot answer the question why there is any world at all, or any laws at all. To answer those questions, or even to understand them properly, you must take an intellectual vantage point from outside the world and its laws, and thus outside of science. You need to look to philosophical argument, which goes deeper than anything mere physics can uncover.

For a response to the “Uncaused Cause” argument, and the outmoded notion of Aristotelian causality in modern physics, I refer you to the writings of Sean Carroll (for example here and here, especially the section called “accounting for the world”), and Carroll’s debate with Feser William Lane Craig here.

No, science cannot yet answer the question why there is any world at all, or why the laws are as they are (though the latter question might someday find an answer), but neither can religion. As Caroll notes, the answer to these questions may ultimately be this:

“. .. . the ultimate answer to “We need to understand why the universe exists/continues to exist/exhibits regularities/came to be” is essentially ‘No we don’t.’

. . . Granted, it is always nice to be able to provide reasons why something is the case.  Most scientists, however, suspect that the search for ultimate explanations eventually terminates in some final theory of the world, along with the phrase “and that’s just how it is.”  It is certainly conceivable that the ultimate explanation is to be found in God; but a compelling argument to that effect would consist of a demonstration that God provides a better explanation (for whatever reason) than a purely materialist picture, not an a priori insistence that a purely materialist picture is unsatisfying.”

Indeed, theists like Feser face their own Ultimate Questions: Why is there a God rather than no God? How did God come into being, and what was He doing before he created Something out of Nothing? To answer those, some people might point to scripture or revelation, but that’s unsatisfying, for different scriptures and different revelations say different things. In the end, Feser must resort to the same answer physicists give. When told by rationalists that we need to understand where God Himself came from, Feser would have to respond, “No we don’t. He was just There.” What I don’t understand is how God can just be there, but the universe and its antecedents, or the laws of physics, cannot just be there.

Nor do I understand how an empirical proposition–the idea that there’s a supernatural being who affects the universe–can be demonstrated by philosophy alone, without any appeal to empiricism.

344 Comments

  1. Posted October 4, 2015 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I’ll answer Fesser’s question of why there’s something rather than nothing as soon as he answers mine about what’s north of the North Pole.

    And, seriously? Primitive Aristotelian superstitions about causality? Superstitions that were only invented because the ancients couldn’t embrace the concept of infinity? Still kept alive today, in the age of virtual particles spontaneously appearing in the quantum vacuum?

    b&

    • Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

      No, science cannot yet answer the question why there is any world at all…

      I might as well ask why science is so piss-poor at coming up with definitive answers to every poorly-formulated question that can be imagined. My response would be WHY one would expect any physical state of affairs to consist of a logical negation of that which IS. Kind-of reminds me of this Louis CK routine where the “why” questions eventually fly up one’s childlike butt. My take-away message is that if people want good answers to anything, the first task is to formulate sensible questions.

      • Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

        My take-away message is that if people want good answers to anything, the first task is to formulate sensible questions.

        Indeed; it’s the questions that’re the hard part. Get the questions right, and the answers take care of themselves. It’s only when you don’t know enough to be able to figure out what questions to be asking that things are confusing….

        b&

  2. Posted October 4, 2015 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Feser also argues, contra both Krauss and me, that the empirical propositions of religion, as opposed to its moral dicta, are questions of science.

    Is there a “not” missing there?

    [PS Has PCC-E taken to tw**ting.]

    • Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      Wlll fix, thanks. And I decided I’ll tw**t the occasional article I don’t have time or inclination to write about

      • Scott Draper
        Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

        There is also a “Caroll”…missing an “r”.

  3. Geoff Benson
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    When Feser refers to ‘philosolophical’ reasoning he’s being disingenuous. What he means is ‘metaphysical’ reasoning, and metaphysics is now a pretty well redundant term.

    His reasoning for ‘God’ is, in any event, highly confused (not unusual for Feser). He combines observation, for example evidence of the Big Bang, with a conclusion, namely that God exists because there couldn’t possibly be another explanation. He sees no need to bother with issues of evidence in arriving at his conclusion.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Yes, he does a disservice to philosophers using this outmoded reasoning.

  4. bric
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    OK here’s some philosophy: Wittgenstein Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Proposition 1

    1 The world is everything that is the case.
    1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
    1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts.

    I respectfully suggest that one cannot ‘step outside’ the World to get a better view: facts are the world and all we have or will ever have.

    And if you are looking for a ‘god’ to explain what you cannot understand from the World, consider the case of ‘Q’ in Star Trek.

    • Anders
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      @bric, yes. Good stuff. Well, almost. Facts are the world and all of which we can ever *speak*. But Wittgenstein distanced himself from L.Positivism, perhaps the 20th Century’s version of scientism, and believed that some of the most important “facts” about the world were among those of which we “must remain silent”.

  5. Les Robertshaw
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Bulls**t baffles brains and Fesser is peddling bulls**t
    Philosophy is interesting in itself but I don’t think that it can answer questions the require empirical evidence.
    But then I am not a philosopher or a scientist so what do I know. I rely on is Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit.

  6. bpuharic
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    The Witherspoon Institute funded the gay bashing study by Mark Regnerus that was fatally flawed

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      At first glance I thought Britain’s most charmless and ubiquitous pub franchise had set up a right-wing think-tank.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 4, 2015 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

        A charmless and ubiquitous pub franchise like the one depicted in “World’s End” — the commodified uniformity of which foreshadowed the discovery of an alien invasion?

        • bric
          Posted October 5, 2015 at 3:16 am | Permalink

          It’s the one that chucked Nigel Farage out for getting noisily political

  7. Mark Joseph
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Feser:

    You state: “the facts that there is a world at all and that there are any laws governing it cannot be made sense of unless there is an uncaused cause sustaining that world in being.”

    I would ask you though, Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

    Sincerely,

    Douglas Adams

    • Anders
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      I believe it’s *Doctor* Feser.

      But to your garden scenario. Let’s say the fairy theory is silly. But we can’t leave it at that — we still want an explanation for the garden being so beautiful. If you came across a beautiful garden in an otherwise wild forest, you’d want an explanation, wouldn’t you?

      Equally maybe the god thing is silly. But the existence of a silly theory should not stop us looking for a good theory. Like the beautiful garden, change exists, and there appears to be a high degree of contingency in nature. What is their source? Yes, yes, “god” is a bogus answer — so let’s have some non-bogus ones.

      • Posted October 6, 2015 at 12:02 am | Permalink

        But the existence of a silly theory should not stop us looking for a good theory.

        It’s not just the theory that’s silly. It’s the non-existent “problem” the theory is trying to “explain.”

        If you want to understand why you find the garden beautiful, we can delve into your own person aesthetic sense, correlated with psychology and cultural norms and the rest. But the way you’ve framed the “problem”…it isn’t even coherent in the first place.

        b&

        • forsyth
          Posted October 6, 2015 at 10:16 am | Permalink

          I didn’t frame it; Douglas Adams did.

          But leaving his analogy aside, what needs explained are things like:
          Why does change happen?
          Why are there physical laws?
          Why is there something rather than nothing?
          and so on.

          It’s not clear to me that the answer to any of those is “god”, but they seem like excellent questions, probing not-at-all non-existent problems.

          • Posted October 6, 2015 at 10:59 am | Permalink

            Why does change happen?

            What change? “Change” isn’t some monolithic entity; there’re all sorts of different types of change, and the explanations for each are, unsurprisingly enough, suited only for the phenomenon in question that’s changing.

            Why do species change? Darwin answered that. Why do continental outlines change? Plate tectonics is the general answer. Why do human attitudes towards all sorts of things change? Ask a psychologist or a sociologist. At the smallest of scales, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is a dominant factor. At the largest of scales, the Cosmological Constant (whether that be dark energy or whatever) and gravity are mostly what matter.

            Why are there physical laws?

            Physical laws are just expressions of observed symmetries, with associated conservations. See Emily Nother for details. Whatever the system, if there’re symmetries and conservations, there will be something that looks like a law. And all such have limited domains over which they’re applicable. Even something seemingly universal, like gravity, is of no relevance within a computer simulation unless something like gravity has been incorporated into the simulation. The laws that science is devoted to uncovering are simply the local rules of the local game.

            Why is there something rather than nothing?

            I already addressed this elsewhere in this thread. “Nothing exists” is the ultimate expression of incoherence. Nothing is what’s north of the North Pole, what you get when you divide by zero. That which is north of the North Pole and the quotient of zero do not exist. Of course there has to be something rather than nothing. To say that nothing is real is to say that you’ve found the land north of the North Pole.

            And, as to why the “something” that there is should be the “something” that we observe? Start back at the top. Which something?

            Ultimately, you’re likely wondering why it should be that you find yourself in the circumstances you do. And that makes about as much sense as wondering why this snowflake fell on that pebble but the other snowflake fell on a leaf. You get heavy enough snowfall and both the pebble and the leaf are going to have snowflakes fall on them. From the perspective of the snowflakes it may well seem to have some cosmic significance that they’re the ones that fell on pebbles or on leaves…but from any other perspective? It’s just snowing.

            b&

          • Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:34 am | Permalink

            Why does change happen?
            Why are there physical laws?
            Why is there something rather than nothing?

            The first question is, I agree, very good because it’s fundamental to everything. If everything was static we couldn’t possibly exist in the way we do to try to answer it.

            The last two questions are at least worth addressing but I’m not sure they necessarily have satisfactory answers. If we look at Physical Laws as descriptions of the way matter and energy work together (which I think is valid), the question answers itself. Physical Laws are useful approximations to describe the way things work. Coming at it from the other angle seems much more difficult; i.e. saying that matter and energy “obey laws” which assumes things could be different than they are at a fundamental level.

            It’s difficult to imagine that if nothing existed how any physical law could possibly hold (or even exist). Every abstraction from ideas to physical laws to computer programs that we have found so far has a correlate in the physical world and when you push the granularity far enough down the spectrum, the concept has some exception and eventually no longer applies at all. Computer programs don’t do precisely what they were intended to do; even a well executed algorithm that loads this website on my machine is going to look drastically different on your machine once we get down to the quantum level–so different, in fact, it’d be all but impossible to determine that our machines are doing the same thing at some higher level of abstraction.

            The last question just seems silly when rephrased as “Why should there be nothing instead of something?” or “Why should there be something instead of nothing?” I think these two questions are the questions usually implied when we start going down the path of something actually existing rather than nothing. When viewed this way, it becomes more clear that assuming any state is the way things “should” be is really going down the path to presupposing the existence of a creator who had a choice in the matter and usually winds up in some form of question begging.

  8. Mark Joseph
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Feser:

    You state: “Thus, science cannot answer the question why there is any world at all, or any laws at all.”

    I would say, though: “Of all questions, why? is the least pertinent. It begs the question; it assumes the larger part of its own response; to wit, that a sensible response exists.

    Sincerely,

    Jack Vance

    • Posted October 4, 2015 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      ah, very nice. hasn’t seen that one before.

    • Posted October 4, 2015 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely right. The use of “why” in the sense Feser is using it is smuggling in the concept that there is a teleological purpose in the same sense that the reason why I’m taking the train to work in the morning is so that I can go do my job. Why does there have to be a why? For there to be such a why, there’d need to be pre-existing intelligence, which is just the thing that Feser is trying to prove in the first place.

    • Filippo
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      Some years ago I took an Anatomy & Physiology course at an East Tennessee community college. I overheard a student reference God in the presence of the prof. Not sure what brought it up. I suspect it issued from the student’s reflecting on the complicated structure of the human body. I wish I could remember exactly what she said, but I gather she said to the effect that she didn’t see how anything could have come about with the guiding hand of a Creator.

      The Ph.D. prof responded, “Why?” As in to the effect, why is it necessary to postulate the existence of a supernatural entity? She’d respond with some answer (likely just a reformulation of her claim), and he’d respond with “Why?” This happened 3-4 times in a row. I do remember he specifically asked for the evidence.

      It seems that his “Why?” question was at least nominally pertinent. The student was making a “just so” claim; he was civilly-enough pressing her to justify it.

      Until that time I had never heard a prof so forthrightly respond to such a claim. Got me to thinking.

      • Filippo
        Posted October 5, 2015 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        WITHOUT the guiding hand of a Creator.

  9. Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    “…mere physics…”

    Sure. What Carroll and Krauss do is south more low-brow than what Feser does. Pffft.

    I will grant Deser that no invocation of physics is necessary to settle this argument. The “uncaused cause” that necessarily equals god is simply special pleading. Either things need causes or they don’t. If things do, then what caused god? Claiming God is exempt is special pleading. If things don’t, then why do we have to say the universe does? Why can’t the universe occupy the “terminal” position theists reserve for god?

    • Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      south = so much

    • Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      And “Feser”, not “Deser”.

      This autocorrect is sneaky!!! I feel like it changes things long after I’ve already made sure they’re correct and moved on! WTF?!

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        Auto correct is evidence of God’s interference in the universe.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          Or Satan’s.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

            Haha! Excellent point! How do you ever know which one it is?

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

              Well, a believer would probably tell you that even Satan does God’s work so indirectly it’s always God.

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted October 4, 2015 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

                You’re making my head hurt! 🙂

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted October 4, 2015 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

                That’s what religion will do to ya!

            • Posted October 4, 2015 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

              It’s something to do with the conjugation…I worship the one true god; you worship a false god; they worship devils.

              b&

    • Christian Giliberto
      Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      One of the common responses by these types is something along the lines of “the world is contingent, but God is a necessary being.”

      But of course, even granting for the sake of argument that the whole framework of contingent vs. necessary beings is reasonable (which I don’t think it is), this still doesn’t work. Why can’t the physical world’s existence be necessary, even if its particular configuration is contingent? Why can’t things be contingent all the way down? And even if we further grant -really being absurdly generous at this point- that there must be some non-physical necessary substrate to explain contingent things, why on Earth is god a good candidate? Even under extremely generous, implausible assumptions, something like a Platonistic mathematical structure still seems to me like a vastly better candidate than god.

      Of course I think that none of the above assumptions can be actually be granted. The notion that we can discover the deepest truths about the nature of reality by sitting and stewing in vague intuitions about what’s possible with no empirical evidence, no institutional checks on bias, etc. is completely loony.

      I’ll finish by noting that this is also another reason why Feser’s framing (and those of others like him) of the debate as being whether “science” covers all of reality is misleading. For this type of BS to get off the ground, you have to implicitly make the much stronger methodological claim that you can actually discover deeper, more fundamental, more general facts than science by some method other than science, not merely that there are some sorts of facts that are not discovered scientifically.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        Superb response!

      • Posted October 4, 2015 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        But of course, even granting for the sake of argument that the whole framework of contingent vs. necessary beings is reasonable (which I don’t think it is), this still doesn’t work.

        It’s even worse than your simple dismissal would suggest.

        Aside from certain favored local deities, no examples of “necessary” entities have ever been proposed — let alone demonstrated. And the evidence for these “necessary” beings consists entirely of the incredulity that it could even hypothetically be otherwise.

        Much worse than even that…the mere concept of “necessary” entities was invented by Aristotle as a way to avoid addressing the possibility of an infinite regress of causality, as he was of the philosophical conviction that infinities of any sort were incoherent and nonexistent.

        I must, at this moment, take a moment to remind the gentle reader that Aristotle used a numbering system that lacked zeroes and negative numbers, as well as one which thought that π is a rational number.

        As soon as you open the possibility of infinities in your reasoning, the very foundation for the proposal for “necessary” entities in the first place simply vanishes. Arguing for a “necessary” entity makes literally as much sense as arguing that there really is some whole-number fraction that represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.

        But wait! There’s more!

        It also presupposes very primitive notions of causality that only barely hold even for macro-scale phenomenon. The physics Aristotle was working with assumed that you had to push on something in order for it to move, and we all know that Newton showed that that’s simply not the case. Indeed, in today’s world, we know full well that there’s no proximate cause for radioisotope decay or the appearance of virtual particles in a quantum vacuum or the like. The very starting premise that every event needs a cause is as incoherent as an assertion that the Earth can’t possibly be round because Australians would therefore fall off the bottom.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Christian Giliberto
          Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

          I mean I agree 100%, I think the whole vocabulary of “necessary entities” and “first causes” is nonsense for exactly the reasons you state and more.

          I just think it’s very indicative of just how bad this kind of reasoning is that you can grant so much ground and it still doesn’t make sense.

      • Posted October 4, 2015 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Woops, I somehow missed your response before I put mine down below. You make a lot of the same points I just did. The fact is, that we came up with the notion of cause by observing the world around us and found that there exists such things as cause and effect.

        Once we eliminate Physics (which seems to be Feser’s method) and rely purely on philosophy, we’re now in a place where we’re no longer trying to verify anything empirically, despite the fact that millennia ago we came up with these abstract philosophical arguments by deducing them from observations of the world around us. Now, they’ve simply thrown out the basis on which we even began down this path.

        It is trivial to make up unfalsifiable arguments based purely on philosophy. Here’s another:
        1) All necessary beings are uncaused.
        2) The Universe is necessary.
        3) The Universe is uncaused.

        There is simply no way to demonstrate without resorting to empirical evidence to determine whether my claim that the Universe is necessary is any better than Thomists’ arugment that it is contingent. They are both equally sound logically.

      • Vaal
        Posted October 4, 2015 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        Christian Giliberto,

        I haven’t yet read the piece by Ed Feser from Jerry’s OP, but the questions you raise are just the ones “answered” in the types of arguments presented by Feser. The argument is very much about giving answers to the types of objections you are raising.

        I don’t buy Feser’s arguments. But if those are sincere questions for the proponent of an argument like Feser’s, then you may want to look into his purported answers (?).

        • Christian Giliberto
          Posted October 5, 2015 at 6:18 am | Permalink

          I would certainly hope he attempts to answer them somewhere in his work, as they’re some of my general concerns with the approach, and they certainly weren’t questions addressed in the linked piece. I doubt my generalized skepticism of this kind of metaphysical methodology is going to find an answer better than the attempts by people like Lowe and Sider, but I would be curious about the specific argumentative strategy regardless.

          He does point reader to his book on Aquinas however, so depending on how similar his arguments are to the angelic doctor’s I can’t imagine I’ll be very impressed.

      • gluonspring
        Posted October 4, 2015 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

        There is a tremendous amount of evidence that, if anything is contingent intelligence is. After all, 100% of the examples of intelligence we can verify are based on brains (*). We have a lot of evidence that brains come from evolution, and even more that brains are built out of molecules and atoms which we know from other evidence come from exploding stars. All very late stuff in the history of the universe. Fundamentally, everything we know about intelligence tells us that no-mind precedes mind. That is, we have affirmative evidence that if there is something “necessary”, it isn’t intelligence.

        This is contra the intuition, since our subjective feeling is that the mind is ethereal, unitary, with no moving parts… an illusion that comes from how our mind’s machinery is hidden from our own mind (e.g. words pop seeming “out of nowhere” into my mind, which feels like Platonic magic). And so it is that most humans find it very easy to imagine that there is some mind that precedes all other existing things, but science has taught us a fair bit about minds beyond this illusion and that simply is not what minds are really like.

        * Omitting, for the moment, Siri, Watson, and the sort, which in any case are clearly traceable to brains.

      • eric
        Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        something like a Platonistic mathematical structure still seems to me like a vastly better candidate than god.

        The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle does a pretty decent job of answering the “why is there something rather than nothing” question. Sure, you can ask “why the HUP” the same way you can ask “why God,” but if you’re going to pick a stopping point, the HUP has the distinct advantage of being testable, tested, and (provisionally) confirmed.

      • Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

        Things not only can be contingent all the way down – they are.

      • aspidoscelis
        Posted October 11, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        I think we can read “contingent” in this context as “potentially subject to empirical investigation” and “necessary” as “not potentially subject to empirical investigation”. If we are empiricists and consider reality to be that which is subject to empirical investigation, we can then read “contingent” as “real” and “necessary” as “unreal”.

        Stating that god is a necessary being means that god’s existence is not something we can investigate based on any kind of data about the observable world. Once you’re in the realm of the observable world, you open yourself up to a variety of different observations and possible conclusions. You’re dealing with statements that might or might not be true and gathering data that let you decide the question. You can’t do that with a necessary being. Such a being exists because it must, not because we happen to have data indicating that it does or does not exist.

        By calling god a necessary being, folks like Feser are saying that god is not real in an empirical or scientific sense. Feser et al. would likely want to drag us into the meta-argument about whether his view of metaphysics (which I assume includes the idea that there are real but non-empirical things) is correct… but “not empirically real” is already a sufficient disproof of god for me, and I don’t even have to argue for it. It’s right there in the cosmological argument; it’s a central part of what the argument is intended to demonstrate.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      That everything in the universe is seen to have a ’cause’ is of course the basis of the assumption that the universe itself had to have a cause. Although that seems a perfectly reasonable model for understanding the origin of the universe, I believe that Sean Carroll has pointed out that it is not necessarily true. The beginning of the universe might not need a cause.
      I personally like the idea it did have a cause — an energy conversion from inflationary space-time — but that is beside the point.

      • Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Sure, that may very well be why people assume the universe requires a cause, but why, then, do theists simply exempt god from that assumption? Special pleading, that’s why.

        • darrelle
          Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

          Absolutely. It is bullshit. But, there is a certain logic to it. If you start with the premise that cause and effect are universal, and you can’t grasp any other possibility except linear one way progression of time with a beginning at a starting point? Then logically you need some magic, something that doesn’t obey the rules, to instatiate the 1st cause to start the whole thing off.

          So, Magic Man dun it!

        • aspidoscelis
          Posted October 11, 2015 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

          Because the universe might or might not exist, while god must exist. 🙂

      • Posted October 4, 2015 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Actually, lots of things simply don’t have causes. Radioactive decay is the perfect example; when an individual atom decays, there’s nothing that caused it to do so at that moment in time. At the other end of the scale spectrum…for observers with relative speeds approaching that of light, the sequence of events can be reversed, such that one person sees A cause B to happen, but the other sees B cause A to happen. And both are equally right.

        If there’s one thing we can be certain is true about the Big Bang, it’s that macro-scale Newtonian physics is utterly inadequate to explain it, and that the real explanation is going to have to involve both Quantum Mechanics and Relativistic Mechanics — neither of which have any notion of causality in which Aristotelian metaphysics is anything other than the most primitive of superstitions.

        b&

        • Geoff Benson
          Posted October 5, 2015 at 4:05 am | Permalink

          Ben, I thought you gave an excellent response to Feser, though his response was perhaps a little disrespectful of what were very sound points (he wished the ‘obscene troll’ was back). The only point on which I think you slightly shot yourself in the foot was admitting you didn’t read his full post, though it was actually both tedious and predictable.

    • Delphin
      Posted October 4, 2015 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      I was going to comment on that too, “mere physics.” When his child is ill I hope Feser resorts to “mere medicine” and “mere chemistry” so he gets a “mere cure.”

  10. Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Another approach to debunking the arguments of Catholic religious philosopher Edward Feser might be to point out that along with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”, some translations of Genesis offer alternate translations in the form of “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…” or “when God began to create the heavens and the earth…”, “the earth was without form and void.”

    The difference brings to light two very different possible meanings of create. Instead of God conjuring up all of existence from nothing, the alternate translations portray him as molding heaven and earth into a suitable form from existing material, sort of like a potter molding a lump of clay that’s “without form” into a useful pot.

    This seems to make more sense, because the more popular version leads one to ask why God didn’t conjure up everything in the form he wanted in the first place instead of creating it in an unsuitable form that required extensive alterations afterward.

    And if God supposedly molded the heavens and earth from existing material, the Bible doesn’t explain how that material got there in the first place.

    My point is that even if science seems unable to explain where everything came from, there’s good reason to argue that Bible-based Christianity doesn’t explain it either!

  11. Sastra
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    It’s merely saying, “We will call God the reason for the constancy of nature.”

    Yes, the “intuitive” reasonableness of God-as-explanation relies on several assumptions which are extremely dicey.

    The first is the belief that existence and any consistency in existence are extraordinary and not at all what anyone ought to expect. The normal default we begin with is nothingness. And if we do have something, anything at all, then it’s chaotic. Not even the laws of logic should work. That reality is real and that A = A i>needs explanation!!!

    That’s when they wheel in God with another unwarranted assumption: that mind is magic. Mental things like thoughts, intentions, values, emotions, desires and so forth are so basic that they not only need no outside explanation, they transcend the physical world. Mental processes therefore have no mechanism — and again, need no explanation. God, a mindlike ground for material existence, can bring forth and uphold a universe just through its mental force or power.

    All very vague, by necessity. This is what happens when a mind reflects itself into what it’s thinking about.

    • Posted October 4, 2015 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Another assumption is that “god” even has explanatory power. It is simply a word whose definition is highly contentious at best, non-existent at worst. How could it possibly be used to elucidate some phenomenon? Even when theists play the game of “whatever turns out to explain phenomenon X, that is what we call god” – that’s not explanation. That’s just definition. Disingenuous definition.

      • Sastra
        Posted October 4, 2015 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        No matter how poorly theists define “God” there’s always something mental included underneath the vague hand-waving and babbling about Mystery. If it’s not something obviously mind-related like Consciousness or intention, it’ll involve something in the same general ballpark, like perfection or a responsiveness to good and evil. Otherwise it won’t be satisfying to the people who find that sort of thing satisfying.

        God “explains” things by bringing our concerns into it, like a psychological explanation. What Feser finds so annoying about Krauss is that the scientist explains using a chain of causation which doesn’t contain a moral lesson or reassure us that we matter.

        • Posted October 4, 2015 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

          Sure. Theists are ego-driven. The definitions, such as they may be, of gods will have some abstracted human characteristics. But my point is how can an ambiguous word that is only barely tethered to many different, contradictory, and vague concepts like “mental” possibly do any explaining?

          • Sastra
            Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

            Required: A low bar for what constitutes an “explanation.”

            Child:”Why is the moon in the sky?”

            Astronomer: detailed explanation involving history of the solar system and the laws of physics.

            Mommy: “Because God wanted the night to look pretty for you.”

            ———————

            Philosopher: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

            Krauss: scientific explanation.

            Theist: “YOU ARE LOVED, SO MUCH LOVED. PRAISE HIM, PRAISE HIM, GLORY GLORY.'(satisfied sigh)

  12. Steve Gerrard
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    The universe was created at the Big Bang by a team of a dozen supernatural gods, who persisted for a few million years, to make sure everything was on the right track, and then faded away and vanished. (It turns out gods are not eternal.)

    Hey you philosophers, prove to me otherwise.

    It is endlessly boring to hear the argument that since science can’t explain everything about the beginning of things, therefore whichever god is currently popular is obviously responsible.

    Unless the philosophers can come up with a way to find something out about their posited supernatural entities, their arguments are as vacuous and empty as the nothingness Krause claims as the origin of everything.

    • Posted October 4, 2015 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. Even if the arguments for a creator were valid, one would still be effectively 0% of the way towards proving the truth of Catholicism or any other religion.

      There would still be no reason to assume that the Bible or any other scripture is the work of that creator–nor, for that matter, any reason to assume that there’s such a thing as a soul, or an afterlife, or that human beings on the planet Earth have any special place in the creator’s universe.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 4, 2015 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      … a team of a dozen supernatural gods, who persisted for a few million years …

      It would seem these supernatural gods persisted for much longer, although they ceased to act as a team and began working at cross-purposes — the one who armed the fox to catch the rabbit, another who armed the rabbit to avoid the fox; the one who armed the mongoose to fight the cobra, another who armed the cobra to fight the mongoose.

  13. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    This argument(the ‘Going Nuclear’ option in the anti-rationalist’s toolbelt) never fails to irritate the hell out of me – that atheism “presupposes that there is an order”(sometimes it’s expressed as a ‘faith in the rationality of the universe’).

    Set aside whether or not this is true(and I don’t particularly mind conceding the point for the sake of argument), it should be obvious that pretty much everything human beings do “presupposes that there is an order”…

    If you open your mouth and emit noises in support of your religious beliefs then you’re presupposing sufficient order that other human beings will understand the words coming out of your mouth. Same with typing those arguments. Or miming them.

    So before the theist has even finished vocalising/typing/miming/smoke-signalling this argument they will already have reduced its impact to essentially zero.

    Even if theists were to reduce their beliefs to the base claim that ‘God Causes Order'(and just sit there quietly believing it without ever expressing it) they’d still be working with the background belief that things need causes – which is an assumption about the regularity of the universe.

    All Feser’s argument does is cut away a certain, roughly equal amount of metaphysical shag carpet from underneath everyone’s beliefs. As a result I find it irrelevant.

    The only way I’d accept Feser’s argument as relevant is if he were to give me an example of an ideology, any extant belief at all in fact, that doesn’t ‘presuppose order’. I don’t think there is such an example so I think he can flip off, and flip off right proper too.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Yeah. The order argument is invalid at every level, philosophically, logically, scientifically, anyway you wish to consider it.

      If you ask the best minds in science some will say science requires the premise that the universe is ordered and some will say no, it doesn’t. Mine is far from a best mind in any arena, but my considered opinion is that that premise is not necessary in order to do science, but rather it is a finding of science, as Jerry said. It seems very evident to me. Science is merely a method of making observations, reasoning about those observations and making further observations to test your ideas. If the universe were not ordered, that is what would be observed and likely in those cirumstances science wouldn’t be very useful, but neither would any other method of discovering truths about the universe.

      But, if the universe were not ordered we wouldn’t be here asking questions about it in the first place. There would be no stars, no galaxies, no planets and no life.

      And what good reason is there to suppose that disorder is the necessary default state? That order is less probable than disorder? It seems to me that this goes back directly to the same incredulousness that leads to Evolution being so anathema to religious believers. They can’t get past the fact that order and complexity can arise via natural, mindless, processes.

    • Posted October 6, 2015 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

      Bingo. Which highlights a minor error in Prof. Ceiling Cat’s presentation: “laws governing the world” isn’t just a result of science, it’s a presupposition of science – and of everything else. What is a result of science is that the laws are as simple as they are. (Well – if you call QM and relativity simple.) But if we didn’t find simple laws, we’d have to keep digging after complex ones, or approximate ones, or whatever we can get.

      • Posted October 6, 2015 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

        “laws governing the world” isn’t just a result of science, it’s a presupposition of science

        No, it really isn’t. And, even if early scientists had started out with such a presupposition, the scientific would have invalidated it anyway had it turned out to not be the case.

        For a very charming fictionalized view into how that might work, read Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.

        b&

  14. devoutbuddhist
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I don’t get why theologians think they’re being sophisticated when they press such questions. The reason they don’t get good answers is because the questions are kinda stupid.

    I find such questions ill-posed. Asking “why?” assumes that a reason exists. Sometimes a reason exists, but sometimes no reason does. If no reason does, then asking “Why?” is just a form of begging the question; it assumes something that is either false or not known to be true.
    “Why did you wear a blue shirt today?” assumes that there is a reason for the observation, but it’s possible that I just reached into my closet and pulled out any shirt out randomly in a hurry. In that case, there is no significance to the blueness of the shirt. If I grabbed for a shirt, then I had to pull one out, which means it had to be some color, and it just happened to be blue that time.
    In other words, the first sensible question we can ask would be, “Is there any reason why you’re wearing blue today?” If we get a Yes, *then* we can sensibly ask, “Why are you wearing blue today?”

    Another example, “Why do prime numbers go in the sequence 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, etc.? Why not some other sequence?”
    The question makes no sense because it assumes that there is an underlying reason at all. It’s possible that the nature of reality is such that the numbers simply couldn’t be any other way.

    It’s just an ill-posed question, like “What’s the color of time?” Although grammatically correct, the question is senseless, and we wouldn’t think ourselves sophisticated for constantly asking it and then asserting other peoples’ befuddlement as proof for our unsupported conclusion. Being unable to answer it doesn’t mean we don’t know the answer, it just means that the question itself is senseless, ill-posed, illegitimate, etc..

    • David Evans
      Posted October 4, 2015 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

      One answer to the prime number question would be “because the natural numbers are defined to obey the Peano axioms” followed by a crash course in number theory. The question would then arise “Why do the numbers we use for counting objects obey those axioms?” I’m fairly sure that if there is an answer for that, it isn’t “God willed it”.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted October 4, 2015 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

        True enough, but that’s *precisely* what my ex-colleagues (I used to be an evangelical missionary and bible teacher) would say.

      • eric
        Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        There is an answer to that: math obeys those axioms because we humans decided to build this deductive logical system that way. It was our choice. Prime numbers follow the pattern they do because – consciously or unconsciously – human chose to build the rules of standard math that way.

        Likewise, “P and not-P” is always false in standard two-value logic because that’s how we built two-value logic. But we can and have built other logics, where it doesn’t work that way.

        So IMO the question of “why does this deductive system look the way it does” has a fairly trivial answer: because we humans pick/fashion our tools, and we picked/fashioned this one. There is a deeper question, but IMO it’s also fairly trivial to answer: why does this mathematical system, out of all the possible ones, do such a great job of modeling the world? Answer: because fit to the world was one of our priorities when deciding which deductive system to pick/fashion.

        • devoutbuddhist
          Posted October 5, 2015 at 10:49 am | Permalink

          I’m not sure I understand what you guys mean.
          Prime numbers are the same everywhere, no matter what language you speak, and logic follows the same rules, no matter what language you speak. Every culture, if it’s doing math and logic correctly, independently discovers the same sequence of prime numbers and the same rules of logic. They might be speaking different in languages, but they’d be thinking the exact same thing.
          As Carl Sagan said, prime numbers are like a universal language in a way, and alien intelligent life might even choose to communicate in prime numbers, cuz they’d know 1) that prime numbers are universal and 2) that other intelligent life, no matter how it communicates, would also have discovered that prime numbers are universal. So it’s one of the few things that can be used as a universal signal of intelligence.

          Prime numbers and the logic of how to discover them isn’t a social construct that we decided upon arbitrarily. It was arrived at through intense trial and error. If we ever find that it doesn’t work or that something else works better, then obviously we’d switch to something else instead.

          So, my point still stands. Asking “but, WHY are the prime numbers the numbers that they are?” asks a pointless question. It doesn’t point to anything in reality. The prime numbers are just properly basic, so asking for a reason why they are the way they are is like asking “If you’re at the North Pole and keep heading North, where do you end up?” It’s simply not a valid question.

          • Posted October 5, 2015 at 11:52 am | Permalink

            Actually, there *are* many alternative logics. Are any actually in use in a naive sort of way by others? Not as far as I can tell, but that’s a factual question.

            • devoutbuddhist
              Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think that’s accurate, Keith Douglas. There’s just logic.
              ex. if B is larger than A and if C is larger than B, then C is larger than A.

              Some people execute logic more successfully or understand more of logic’s rules more successfully than other people, but there is only one actual logic. Sort of like memory vs. the past. 100 people can have 100 different memories of the past, but there is only one past, not 100.

              • Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

                There are alternative logics. These include logics where non-contradiction does not hold, true/false is not a binary operation and logics where your example A < B < C means A < C is not only not correct, but completely incoherent.

              • Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

                And, not only that, if we lived at Quantum scales, non-contradiction wouldn’t seem intuitive.

                It’s best to think of classical logic as a simplified version of classical (Newtonian) mechanics. Same thing with Euclidean geometry. If we lived at Relativistic scales, we wouldn’t intuitively think that the angles of a triangle always sum to 180°.

                b&

              • devoutbuddhist
                Posted October 8, 2015 at 9:41 am | Permalink

                No, you’re just wrong.
                What you are describing are different systems that seek to represent logic, but there is only one true logic.

                And, it is necessarily true that if A<B<C, then A<C. It's logic, which is to say, the nature of the universe is such that if the premise is true, then the conclusion is always true. Not because we decided it to be, but because we've observed it to be true every single time we check/use the logic.

                If you ever find an exception to it, then let the world know, and you'll become the world's most famous person because you'd alert us that we'd have to rethink everything we know about logic.

                But until then, I promise you, that that is logically true, and there is only one *true* system of logic in the world.

              • Posted October 8, 2015 at 10:39 am | Permalink

                And, it is necessarily true that if A<B<C, then A<C. It's logic, which is to say, the nature of the universe is such that if the premise is true, then the conclusion is always true. Not because we decided it to be, but because we've observed it to be true every single time we check/use the logic.

                If you ever find an exception to it, then let the world know, and you'll become the world's most famous person because you'd alert us that we'd have to rethink everything we know about logic.

                That’s already happened, almost a century ago. And Mr. Schrödinger and his cat are every bit as famous as you’d expect them to be. But I wonder how his fame managed to escape you…?

                …especially considering he’s not the only one. Ever hear of a Mr. Einstein and his wacky crazy ideas? No? Mr. Heisenberg? Mr. Fermi? Mr. Dirac? Mr. Bohr?

                b&

        • Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

          Likewise, “P and not-P” is always false in standard two-value logic because that’s how we built two-value logic. But we can and have built other logics, where it doesn’t work that way.

          Not only can we, but we would have had Quantum Mechanics or Relativity been the governing physics of everyday experience.

          b&

  15. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    A god derived from philosophy is irrelevant. The religious mythology that attends to the idea of god is what is incomprehensible, illogical, and totally insane.

  16. Filippo
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    “Scientists should tell Lawrence Krauss to shut up already.“

    Feser is welcome to talk as much as he likes, though he himself – apparently entitled – is not inclined to similarly extend that consideration to those he opposes. “Shut up!” generally is the first sentiment issuing from the bully’s mouth.

  17. devoutbuddhist
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I don’t get why theologicans think themselves so sophisticated for going around asking “Why?” questions all the time.

    I find such questions ill-posed. Asking “why?” necessarily assumes that a reason exists. Some observations have reasons for how they are, of course, but others have none. When no reason exists, then asking “Why?” is simply a form of begging the question. It assumes that there is a reason at all, which can be either false or not known to be true.
    For example, asking someone, “Why did you wear a blue shirt today?”, assumes that there is a reason why, when it’s possible that he just reached into his closet and pulled out any shirt at random while in a dreadful hurry, without paying attention or caring about any of the shirt’s attributes. Given that he wanted to grab a shirt, he had to pull out some particular shirt, which means it had to have *some* color in particular, and this one just happened to be blue. But, there’s no significance to it.
    The first sensible question we can ask is, “Is there any reason why you’re wearing a blue shirt today?” If Yes, *then* we can sensibly ask, “Why are you wearing blue today?”

    Another example, “Why do prime numbers go in the sequence 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, etc.? Why not some other sequence?”
    The question makes no sense because it assumes that there is an underlying reason at all. It’s possible that the nature of reality is such that the numbers simply couldn’t be any other way, in which case the question makes no sense.

    It’s just an ill-posed question, like “What’s the color of time?” Although grammatically correct, the question is meaningless. Being unable to answer it doesn’t mean we don’t know the answer, it just means that the question itself is senseless. We would never think a person sophisticated for going around asking people this question constantly then taking their befuddlement as proof for whatever unjustified assertion he would then advance.
    The question is senseless, ill-posed, illegitimate, etc. I, for one, am not impressed.
    By the way, Mr. Theologian, When did you stop beating your wife?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 4, 2015 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      … an ill-posed question, like “What’s the color of time?” …

      Not so ill-posed for some of my fellow synesthetes (although I personally don’t experience time as a color, but rather as geometrical shapes).

      • devoutbuddhist
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

        I’m assuming you’re being silly.
        Experiencing color as time does not mean that time has color. It would just mean that you experience time as color. Just as, when you’re bored, time doesn’t slow down. It just subjectively feels as if time is slowing down.

      • devoutbuddhist
        Posted October 7, 2015 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

        I know I did a typo just now, but I don’t think I’m allowed to edit my own comments. Booo.

  18. Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    a bully who shouts shut up and doesn’t allow comments on his nonsense. what a lovely example of a TrueChristian and true coward.

  19. keith cook + or -
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    “Not knowing the answer is perfectly fine. What’s not fine is pretending that we do know the answer, and using that pretend-knowledge to draw premature theological conclusions”
    Sean Carroll
    And for my theological dig, I would say immature as well.
    Krauss for President!

  20. Sun Jul
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    What galls me is the unspoken thesis of Feser and his ilk that because science can never answer the “Why?” question abortion is therefore murder, gay marriage is therefore immoral, and climate change is therefore not our fault.

  21. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Damn Aristotle & the Church’s obsession with him!

    • Posted October 4, 2015 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      …and Plato too, while we’re at it….

      b&

      • darrelle
        Posted October 5, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        I know you both are speaking tongue in cheek to an extent, but I feel compelled to say for the record what you two very likely agree with anyway.

        Plato and Aristotle were awesome. For their time. Hell, even for a very long time after their time. All the church’s continuing nonsense based on those two human luminaries is all on the church!

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 5, 2015 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

          I maintain Nietzsche went crazy, not from syphilis, but from reading Plato in Ancient Greek. You’d feel differently about Plato if you had to translate him as part of a pop translation quiz (shudder).

          • darrelle
            Posted October 5, 2015 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

            🙂

            Thank you for doing that so I wouldn’t have to suffer through it!

            I do find Plato tedious. It is only in context of his time (cue Princess Irulan like introduction of Paul Maud’Dib) that I find Plato very interesting.

        • Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think you can even make an argument for Plato as being impressive for his time. He was quite a step backwards from the pre-Socratics like Eratosthenes and Epicurus.

          b&

  22. Posted October 4, 2015 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    a cause that exists of absolute necessity rather than merely contingently (as the world itself and the laws that govern it are merely contingent)

    The premise that I’ve yet to ever see justified by any modern peddlers of this Thomistic claim is how the hell they demonstrate that the Universe is contingent. Why not just say the Universe is necessary instead of God, since for one thing, we can see the Universe is here? How do they know this? And, digging deeper, the very notion of cause and effect is something that was discovered based on our observations of how things work. It is still an unanswered question, insofar as I know, whether Quantum Mechanics has truly random events or whether there is some underlying determinism. To assert that the Universe itself must have a cause is, to put it bluntly, practicing the long tradition in theology of making shit up as we go along. And, at that point, we haven’t even delved into the idea of contingent beings within the Universe. As a matter of Physics, these things don’t begin to exist in the sense that something new was created. The matter making up each of our bodies existed before we were born and follows conservation laws.

  23. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    The irony of a religious individual claiming that science presupposes…

    What would they believe in of they hadn’t the largest presupposition of them all (aka “uncaused cause”)?

    A nit:

    the … proposition that reality is real

    After a long while I have come to the provisional conclusion that philosophy has made another mistake.

    Nature exists – from observation – but existence claims are as far as it goes. Neither “reality” nor “real” can be testably defined. [I have claimed differently earlier, but I now think I simply confused robust observations with observations of existence.]

    • darrelle
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      I know of a truly stupendous thread regarding ‘reality’, specifically Mind Dependent Reality (MDR) vs Mind Independent Reality (MIR) that you might be interesed in. You might want to make sure your dental plan is in good order though because you are likely grind your teeth often. Would you like a link?

  24. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    From Feser’s piece:

    … the fact that scientists need make no reference to God when doing physics, biology, or any other science doesn’t prove—or even suggest—that the existence of God is doubtful.

    What science makes doubtful is the existence of a God the interacts with the natural world, since science has found no evidence of any such interaction in the natural world, and since nothing science has found in the natural world requires divine interaction for an explanation. Science cannot, on the other hand, disprove the existence of a God who does not interact with the natural world, since such a deity would leave no evidence. But why hypothesize the existence of an entity for whom there is no evidence?

    In answering this question, Feser is the one who begs the question. He assumes essence preceded existence — analogous to the Cartesian assumption “I think therefore I am.” But he can give no reason (much less any evidence) for believing that there was an “essence of Man” before men existed, or that there was any essence of anything before the natural world existed, anymore than he can show that the hypothesis that there is a natural world governed by natural laws preceded science.

    Humans understand that there is a natural world because we are of it. Science did not start by reasoning that the universe must be governed by laws and then setting about to discover what they are. Instead, humans observed that the natural world of which they were part had regularities (which is to say, engaged in “science” broadly speaking), and from these observations deduced that these regularities could be formulated as natural laws. Science preceded a philosophy of science.

    When we reach the limits of science (which is to say, reach the limits of human understanding of the natural world) we can either accept that “that’s just how it is” — while continuing to push up against this frontier striving for further understanding — or we can make up stories that provide some of us more “satisfying” answers. Feser is of the second approach.

    • Posted October 4, 2015 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      or that there was any essence of anything before the natural world existed

      Or, that before, as a temporal descriptor has any meaning when talking about the Universe (and time) not existing.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 4, 2015 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      If it was true that the scientific irrelevance of God doesn’t suggest that God’s existence is doubtful, then copious scientific evidence for God wouldn’t suggest that God’s existence is more likely. But that’s not true. Feser wants to have it both ways.

      In the past most theists assumed that there was an enormous amount of empirical and rational evidence for God … up to the time when science started upping the game and making the rules more stringent. This is why it’s popular now to insist that believing in God on faith was part of God’s plan all along. Faith in God used to mean faithfulness TO God, not an epistemic leap beyond reason.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 4, 2015 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        True. If one claims that the suffering of good men, and the temporal rewards of evil men, are not evidence against the existence of God — then finding oneself in a world where good men always triumph and evil men suffer would not be evidence for the existence of God, either.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted October 4, 2015 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

          Similarly, per the law of non-contradiction, those who explain away studies showing no statistically significant effect for intercessory prayer cannot turn around, if the next study should show it has a one-hundred percent cure rate for cancer, and claim that that is proof of God.

    • Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      How does what you follow entail there’s no evidence?

      Here’s an analogy I employ on my blog:

      Let’s suppose that in the future the bots in a computer game become conscious. Some bots think their world (computer game environment) is designed and a creation of some intelligence, others do not (let’s call them atheists).

      The atheist bots assume that should there be a creator/designer of their world, then it must be some entity within their computer game environment. That is to say any designer must either equate effectively to some particularly coloured pixels, or failing this to at least influence the environment in some way. However since no such coloured pixels have ever been detected, and their world operates according to discernible rules (physical laws), they regard it as being highly unreasonable to believe in the existence of a designer. Certainly if there is such a designer then the onus is upon those who suppose he exists to supply some evidence for his existence.

      However many of the theist bots think that this concept of a designer is utterly ridiculous and think of a designer in the correct sense — namely a computer programmer who exists outside of their reality (game world) altogether. However they do disagree and quarrel about the name and personality of the designer (programmer).

      The evidence for a creator clearly consists in the fact there exists a world at all, and given that it does that it follows discernible patterns written in the language of mathematics rather than there simply being unintelligible chaos.

      • darrelle
        Posted October 5, 2015 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        I don’t think the your computer game analogy works very well. To accept it as you imply it should be, based on the conclusions you use it to support, requires conceding many details that are not obvious. For one general example. It is not obvious at all that intelligent entities inside the game would not be able detect evidence of a universe outside of their ‘game-verse.’

        Among other things this would require perfect software and hardware designed in such a way as to hide all such clues from any intelligent entities within the ‘game-verse,’ and or accepting that there is some non-obvious limit on the science abilities of said entities, their ability to observe their environment.

        If your goal is to posit a game which functions as you need it to in order for your analogy to support your conclusions that is certainly possible, but there is no good reason to suppose that such a game accurately models any particular aspect of reality.

      • Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

        You need to extrapolate your simulated world even further.

        Imagine that Jesus (or any other omni-whatever god) is himself a simulation running on an even more impressive trans-hyper-super-duper-computer extraordinaire. What superpower does Jesus have at his disposal to determine that he’s just a simulation?

        And if even the gods can’t, even in principle, know the ultimate nature of reality…of what sense does it make to call them gods, or creators, or even to claim that there is such a thing as “the ultimate nature of reality”?

        b&

      • Vaal
        Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        ianwardell,

        If your computer game analogy were more accurate to the atheists I know, the atheist “bots” would simply point out that if one were positing a designer outside the game, that we would need good evidence for this creator.

        If the creator didn’t interact with the bots in the game in any reliable, cogent manner, then there’d be no good reason to believe in such a creator.

        And we would have to point out that your theist bots, if they mirrored real theists positing an external designer to the universe, would be in the same position:
        What justification would they have insisting everything about the game required design, when the game itself suggests no such thing in of itself? In other words, whatever “rules” or other entities in the game would seem to be operating “naturally” without design or intervention. Just like we see in nature on earth. What would be the reference for “these things just don’t HAPPEN on their own” when that is in fact just how it seems to work?

        Rain, wind, shifting tectonic plates and animal reproduction all seem to occur all on their own, thank you very much, so to say “couldn’t have happened naturally” seems totally at odds with ALL our experience that they DO happen naturally. To say the “laws of physics” couldn’t be that way on their own is similarly a gratuitous claim given they do indeed seem to operate of their own nature, with no detectable intelligence behind the scenes, or required for their operation or design.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 6, 2015 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        ianwardell –

        Let us assume for the moment the validity of your contention that the existence of the program in which the bots find themselves constitutes “evidence” that the program had a creator/programmer. From your hypothetical, it appears that the programmer has not, since creating the program, in any way tinkered with or otherwise intervened in the program, since there exists none of the evidence — that is, “particularly colored pixels” or any other indicia of intervention — that we should expect to find in bot-world if he/she/it (hereinafter reduced for simplicity to “he”) had done so.

        What can we say about the programmer from this? Here is, it seems to me, a (perhaps non-exhaustive) list of the possibilities: either the program is perfect, or perfectly executes the programmer’s intent, and he has had no reason to intervene in it since it was executed; or, the programmer is deceased; or, the programmer has malign intent and is satisfied to let the bots suffer within an imperfect program; or, the programmer simply does not care about the program or about the bots that have become conscious within it; or, the programmer is powerless to intervene in the program after its initial execution; or that the program was created by a committee of programmers, each having different goals and intents, and all of them subject to the deceased/powerless/apathetic-type limitations set out above.

        This latter possibility points in the direction of the defect in the initial assumption. Your premise is based on circular reasoning: you assume every program must have a programmer, then from this assumption conclude that since we have a program we must have a programmer.

        In so doing, you overlook other possibilities — that the program in which the bots find themselves was generated by an earlier program (and, perhaps, an infinite regress of earlier programs); or, perhaps, that the program the bots find themselves in simply always existed. Under present circumstances, the bots in your program have run up against the current limits of bot understanding.

        If your atheist bots are like human atheists, they do not affirmatively contend that there is no programmer; their non-belief in a programmer is provisional, based on there being insufficient evidence to warrant such a belief. The belief of your theistic bots in the programmer’s existence, in contradistinction, is based on question-begging and on their unwarranted suspension of disbelief when it comes to a story explaining why they find themselves where they do.

        Human atheists wish to push back the frontiers of human understanding regarding the existence of the universe, looking for evidence of what (if anything) lies on the other side of the Big Bang singularity, looking for evidence from the early universe that might confirm or defeat the multiverse hypothesis. If the evidence found should point to a creator/god, they would drop their provisional disbelief and accept whatever form of theism was indicated by the evidence.

        That seems to me the approach warranted by our circumstances.

    • eric
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      What science makes doubtful is the existence of a God the interacts with the natural world

      I think we can make stronger statements than that. Scientific equations put an upper bounds on the impact of day-to-day divine action, and that upper bounds is so low that the impact is insiginificant. Not “may be” insignificant; is insignificant. For F=ma+kG where G is “God’s action” and k is the constant of proportionality, k is functionally equivalent to zero.

  25. James Walker
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps I’m philosophically naive (though I did take a few university courses) but the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” has always struck me as incoherent – “nothing” can only exist (or not exist?) with reference to “something”. So you can’t have “nothing” prior to having “something”.

    Also, it’s unfortunate that “law” is used in science to refer to an abstraction over observations. The word leads people to think that these are immutable rules set down by something (or, often, someOne).

    • Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Are you claiming that *necessarily* something had to exist rather than nothing at all?

      • Posted October 5, 2015 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        James can speak for himself, but I would make that claim. That’s what conservation laws say, after all. (As the Epicureans guessed several thousand years ago, as it happens.)

      • Christian Giliberto
        Posted October 5, 2015 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        I would make the claim, and I would suspect that this is what James may have been hinting at as well, that “nothing at all exists” is not simply necessarily false, but incoherent, not really having any meaning. Compare:

        “‘At least one thing exists’ and ‘nothing exists’ are coherent, meaningful propositions, but the first one is necessarily true.”

        “‘Nothing exists’ is not a coherent, meaningful proposition to which truth and falsity, necessary or otherwise, can be meaningfully assigned.”

        I’d lean towards something like the latter.

        • Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

          To elaborate:

          What is north of the North Pole? Clearly, nothing. Does this “nothing” that’s north of the North Pole actually exist? No!

          How about the quotient of zero? What’s that? Again, nothing; and, similarly, this “nothing” that’s the result of dividing by zero doesn’t exist, either.

          It matters not how all-encompassing you wish to make the “nothing” in question; to assert its existence is incoherence in the ultimate.

          b&

  26. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    So Feser has a double task: explain why he thinks philosophy supports *his* particualr god, and why he thinks Aristotle is the philosopher to follow.

    Epicurus, using his own philosophy, argued that Gods existed – but as they were ‘perfect’ they couldn’t be bothered to intervene in human affairs. A lack of concern I am happy to return.

  27. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Let’s consider Feser’s analogy between science and checkers: If checkers players found that, by praying, a checker on their side of the board could be made to disappear and to reappear as a king on the other side of the board, there would no longer be atheistic checkers players. Science has made the god concept as otiose for the whole of the natural world as it is for the game of checkers.

  28. mark
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    feser has replied to jerry:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2015/10/why-cant-these-guys-stay-on-topic-or.html

    • Posted October 4, 2015 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      Feser point’s out Jerry’s mistake in citing the debate between Carroll and William Lane Craig was between Carol and Feser. Of course, the debate was over the First Cause, but Feser insists on holding up this mistake as a refutation of Jerry’s rationality and also pretends that Jerry is saying that because Feser didn’t outline his Uncaused Cause argument in this particle article that it is therefore refuted.

      The whole response even pretends that it wasn’t Feser who brought up uncaused causes as a response to Krauss. He was simply pointing out that Krauss was making a bad argument. Yes! Because “the facts that there is a world at all and that there are any laws governing it cannot be made sense of unless there is an uncaused cause sustaining that world in being, a cause that exists of absolute necessity rather than merely contingently,” Krauss’ assertions are invalid, yet Feser’s response pretends that this isn’t what his rebuttal is about. At least if he ever loses interest in philosophy, maybe he can use his knack for misdirection to take up stage magic.

      • Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        What on earth are you talking about??

        • Posted October 5, 2015 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

          I’m talking about Feser’s quote here: “So, not only does Coyne not bother to read books and articles of his opponents before commenting on them, it seems he doesn’t even bother to read web pages before linking to and summarizing them.”

          Feser makes a living claiming that opponents are strawmanning him, though in many cases he’s taking umbrage with the fact that someone is critiquing a different argument than the one Feser is making. Anyhow, to the point, for a man who says supposedly adheres to the standard that opponents’ arguments should be viewed charitably, it is on odd stance to presume it is more likely that Jerry linked an article without reading it than it is that Jerry made a simple mistake in writing Feser’s name instead of William Lane Craig. It’s also more that a bit ironic that he’s making a disingenuous claim about reading opposing arguments when it is public knowledge that not only has Jerry read the site linked, he posted the debate three different times including the post-debate write-up! On top of that, the mistake has since been corrected in this post.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted October 4, 2015 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

      The most defining part of the response was a few paragraphs in when Feser says:

      “But of course, that’s not what I said.”

      And of course, he’s almost certainly correct. But his correctness in this context is pathognomonic of the disordered thinking of this genre of philosophers and theologians for a simple reason: They can deny any of the implications of their discourse because their language is so imprecise and ill-defined that at any given moment they really aren’t saying anything at all. And they can prove it.

    • Vaal
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 12:28 am | Permalink

      I have to agree with some of Prof Feser’s criticisms. In particular, Jerry appears to be again (because I seem to remember this happening before) confusing Feser’s cosmological argument with the type made by William L. Craig. But they are different arguments.

      Craig’s argument is a version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which does indeed require the premise that the universe had a beginning.

      Feser defends, instead, a type of Argument from contingency, which does not require the universe to have a temporal beginning.

      See the difference (in a nutshell) here:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument#Argument_from_contingency

      I’ve paid some attention to Feser and have seen he has addressed this misunderstanding many, many times.

      I despair of, for instance, Sam Harris having to continually correct straw-men interpretations of his arguments and views, so I feel we atheists should be careful not to be guilty of the same in regards to representing the views/arguments of particular theists.

      • Posted October 5, 2015 at 1:30 am | Permalink

        I was responding to this argument by Feser:

        The arguments claim that, whatever the specific empirical details turn out to be, the facts that there is a world at all and that there are any laws governing it cannot be made sense of unless there is an uncaused cause sustaining that world in being, a cause that exists of absolute necessity rather than merely contingently (as the world itself and the laws that govern it are merely contingent).

        Perhaps Feser doesn’t believe that causality is relevant for his argument, but that’s not what he said above. As for “sustaining the world itself,” that is completely nebulous, and also something that must be empirically demonstrated rather than asserted philosophically. Further, the “absolute necessity” of that cause is simply philosophical pilpul

        Finally, whether or not the Universe had a temporal beginning is tangential to the main argument, which is that everything has a “cause”, and Vaal’s reference above, to Wikipedia, says this:

        In the scholastic era, Aquinas formulated the “argument from contingency”, following Aristotle in claiming that there must be something to explain why the Universe exists. Since the Universe could, under different circumstances, conceivably not exist (contingency), its existence must have a cause – not merely another contingent thing, but something that exists by necessity (something that must exist in order for anything else to exist).[14] In other words, even if the Universe has always existed, it still owes its existence to an Uncaused Cause,[15] Aquinas further said: “…and this we understand to be God.”[16]

        Aquinas’s argument from contingency allows for the possibility of a Universe that has no beginning in time. It is a form of argument from universal causation.

        Perhaps Vaal can explain to my the important ways in which Feser’s argument for the necessity of an Uncaused Sustaining Cause differs from that of an Uncaused Temporal Cause.

        My comments on the irrelevance of causality in modern physics and cosmology holds just as well for this argument as for one that claims that the cause was instantiate as a temporal beginning. Seriously, there is no difference between refuting this “contingency” argument and the “temporal” argument, since both rely on everything having a cause–except God.

        • Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:00 am | Permalink

          Since the Universe could, under different circumstances, conceivably not exist (contingency)

          I’d also like to see how this point is supported, for I can never seem to find it anywhere and I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the First Cause/Uncaused Cause arguments. How does something being conceivable give any credence to the claim that it is possible, never mind the claim that it actually is true? This is where evidence is needed for we can conceive of a great deal of mutually exclusive things which are logically possible in their own right. That isn’t a sound argument for picking one of them and assuming it is true as a premise.

          • eric
            Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:30 am | Permalink

            Well in a trivial sense, QM gives more than just credence to the notion that the universe could be different than the way it turned out because its not fully deterministic. QM would have to be fundamentally wrong for “it couldn’t have happened any other way” to be true.

            But I don’t think the problem of Feser’s argument is in claiming the world is contingent; its in defining/claiming God is not.

            • Posted October 5, 2015 at 11:52 am | Permalink

              Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think whether QM is deterministic or not is a settled question. It certainly isn’t predictable, but that’s not the same thing as saying that “it could have been otherwise.” Maybe it could have, maybe not, we can’t rewind the tape to put the Universe in the same state to test whether it actually could turn out otherwise.

              Also, invoking QM is not the philosopher’s definition of nothing. QM is something when defined in terms of the First Cause argument. The fact that the Universe could be contingent in that it could have been otherwise is really besides the point. That doesn’t imply that the entire set of how it could be includes the empty set; i.e. the one where not even QM exists. It could well be that it is necessary that something exists, just not in any particular state.

              But, I also agree with you on the point that is is silly to say God is necessary. Even accepting this point, there could be a contingent being outside of our Universe who made this Universe while a necessary being created whatever realm that contingent god-like being exists in. And this can go on infinitely. Why should the necessary being (or even be “a being” to begin with) be just one level deep? And again, merely being able to conceive of the idea that the Universe doesn’t exist doesn’t make that an actual possibility. I can conceive of the idea that I didn’t oversleep this morning, but at this point it simply isn’t possible that I didn’t. Then, of course, there’s the inconsistency you’re pointing out in labeling God as necessary; I can conceive of nothing at all existing including the Universe and God, under this criteria God isn’t necessary either and it’s the exact logic they are applying to the Universe itself.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted October 6, 2015 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

                QM … certainly isn’t predictable …

                QM is certainly predictable, very accurately so, in the statistical sense. It is precisely this accuracy that we depend upon in the radiometric dating of items based on the half-life of radioactive isotopes.

              • Posted October 6, 2015 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

                Fair enough. I was sloppy with that assertion. Individual quantum events are not predictable but the aggregate of them certainly can be predicted statistically. My main point is that it isn’t settled as to whether every individual event has a cause(s). An underlying assumption in Feser’s arguments is that the choice is that either every contingent being has a cause or it doesn’t. There’s no reason to assume that there could not be both caused and uncaused events from a philosophical perspective, which is what Feser bases his claims on. He is, after all, basing his claim on the premise that there must be a single non-contingent cause of everything. So long as we remain in the realm of the hypothetical, why must we be constrained to such a view?

                I don’t fall into the camp that philosophy as a whole is useless but I do fall into the camp that logic and reason alone cannot demonstrate anything with any degree of certainty without empirical evidence to accompany it. The logically coherent possibilities are quite literally infinite. E.g., why can’t there be 2 or more “necessary beings” even if we accept the framework of the Cosmological Argument?

        • Vaal
          Posted October 5, 2015 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

          Sorry Jerry, I should have been more precise. As you showed, you did mention the (Cosmological) argument from contingency in one part of the post. Which Prof Feser does defend. But before that you’d also written:

          “To Feser, the existence of the natural world is itself evidence for God, for he keeps insisting that that world had to have a beginning,…”

          The paragraph that is taken from essentially attributes a Kalam Cosmological Argument stance to Feser which he has repudiated numerous times. (Aquinas argued against it, so does Feser). See, for instance, this older blog post:

          http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html

          Feser: “The main reason this is a bad objection, though, is that most versions of the cosmological argument do not even claim that the universe had a beginning.”

          So your post seems attribute two Cosmological arguments to Feser; one that he holds (Contingency), another that he does not and has repudiated (Kalam, relying on the universe having a beginning). Whether your objections ultimately refute both versions is a separate question to whether one argument has been incorrectly imputed to Prof Feser. I’m sure we agree we want to avoid mischaracterizing the opponent’s argument even if inadvertently.

          Perhaps Vaal can explain to my the important ways in which Feser’s argument for the necessity of an Uncaused Sustaining Cause differs from that of an Uncaused Temporal Cause.

          Well, the fact that if you manage to refute one argument you haven’t refuted the other suggests to me they are importantly different. Neither argument is based on the special pleading normally attributed to them by atheists, which seems suggested by your final comment IMO. They don’t make mere assertions or unarmed for assertions for God being uncaused: they are the arguments for WHY God must be uncaused. And they rely on different concepts of causation, and different premises.

          One argument (Kalam) is contingent upon the findings of science (e.g. that suggest the universe had a beginning) and can be in principle discarded by
          empirical evidence to the contrary. This argument in principle could be decided for or against scientifically. For instance if the evidence/theory suggested the universe was eternal.

          The other argument which Feser defends (from Contingency) *claims* to rest on metaphysical principles that must be accepted to even do empirical science, hence it purportedly can not be decided by appeal to scientific evidence one way or another,. The claim is the conclusions are not even *in principle* able to be doubted. Hence one can not appeal to scientific findings to refute it, but must appeal to philosophical argument to show it is conceptually dubious.

          Do arguments from physics, such as Sean Carroll’s, work to undermine both versions of the cosmological argument? It’s my (lay-man’s) sense that, ultimately yes they do. But we can’t wave Carroll’s argument like a magic wand that simply dispenses with cosmological arguments; I think we’d have to show how Carroll’s description of physics undermines the specific premises of each argument, and that takes tackling each argument separately.

          (Though, I think we would also both want to say there are sort of wider, meta arguments for why we should be inherently skeptical of theological or philosophical arguments settling such questions in the first place).

          • Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

            Quoting Fesser:

            What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause.

            Incoherent nonsense. You cannot draw the type of line necessary to say that something even comes into existence in the first place. Your own adulthood, for example; you can make arbitrary distinctions such as the stroke of midnight on your eighteenth birthday, but doing so quickly demonstrates the fallacy of the notion. Yet it’s clearly the case that somebody who’s middle-aged is an adult, and that same person was undoubtedly not an adult half a century before.

            So if you can’t even pin down “comes into existence” for something so fundamental to human existence as adulthood — or, similarly, for personhood, or the dividing line between human species and non-human species, or any other continuum…why are we wasting our time with superstitious nonsense about trying to pin down the cause?

            It’s pure Aristotelian metaphysics, which as been debunked so thoroughly it’s painful.

            I’d go through the rest, but I’m waiting for somebody to pick me up to go to a rehearsal, and said somebody will be here any moment….

            b&

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted October 6, 2015 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

          Philosophers endeavoring to get at the existence/beginning of the universe through pure reason alone are like rats trapped in a coffee can: They can chase their tail in circles and call it progress. They can glimpse their own distorted reflection in the can’s polished metal interior and call it insight. But the longer they remain in the can, the lower becomes the quality of their thinking.

      • Posted October 5, 2015 at 2:08 am | Permalink

        I don’t have time to look through the whole debate again now, but I swear William Lane Craig claimed that an eternal Universe could still be contingent, in which case he’s back in the same mode as Feser. Of course, I could be wrong. I’ll try to rewatch at some point (or maybe another commenter here can confirm Craig has argued this point).

        In any case, I still can’t find where anyone demonstrates the Universe is contingent. The best I can find are claims that one can imagine it being different or not existing and there’s no inherent logical contradiction to say the Universe doesn’t exist. Well, for the former, who cares what can be imagined? That doesn’t make it a real phenomenon. Maybe the Universe can’t be different. We have no way to test that. As for the latter claim, there may not be a logical contradiction, but there may be a physical contradiction. If it isn’t possible for the Universe not to exist in reality, we need not even address logic that assumes it doesn’t.

        • Geoff Benson
          Posted October 5, 2015 at 3:59 am | Permalink

          I agree entirely with your view, and Jerry’s, that Feser is being self delusional in distinguishing ‘absolutely necessary’ as applying to God, and ‘contingent’ in applying, quite literally, to everything else.

          It’s a get out of jail free card, semantic gymnastics, you name it. What it doesn’t do is take forward our state of knowledge one jot.

          • Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:41 am | Permalink

            It is also a fallacy of composition: just because any one part of the universe is contingent it does not follow that the entire *system* is there by such.

      • Posted October 12, 2015 at 1:40 am | Permalink

        Vaal,

        The problem with the “in esse” model is that it’s cartoon physics. It does not exist in nature. For example, in the wikipedia example, the candle’s light is said to depend on the continued existence of the candle flame. But that’s factually false. The light continues to travel at 186000 miles per second regardless of the state of the flame, just as a baseball continues its flight no matter what the bat does after contact. There is no proper model for “in esse” found in nature. I’ve been told that these examples are for analogy only. But that’s clearly just meant to prevent having to answer good questions. If the analogy is mere trickery — which it is — how do we take the concept seriously? Why would we? And if the distinction between “in esse” and “in fieri” is bogus, any argument that uses this distinction is extremely speculative, to say the least. That’s obviously not a solid foundation for a “proof” of anything, especially God.

  29. Vaal
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    “and Carroll’s debate with Feser here.”

    Jerry, just a note: you’ve linked to the debate between William Craig and Sean Carroll.

    I infer you meant to write “and Carroll’s debate with William L. Craig here.”
    (?)

  30. Paulo A Franke
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    I would like to give a little credit to Franciscan friar and philosopher William of Occam – Surrey – UK, 1287 – 1347.
    One of his contributions was efficient reasoning, the Occam’s Razor. No unnecessary, non value-adding entities should be brought to the discussion – entia non sunt multiplicanda sine necessitate.
    When we add god to the debate, what added value is brought to the table? What additional explanation power do we get? What additional comprehension reach do we achieve?
    Adding god to the debate only generates useless and entropic heat, zero useful light.

  31. Posted October 4, 2015 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Nina's Soap Bubble Box and commented:
    You’d think if they understood constitutional law, they’d understand they are on the wrong side of history – their “globalization” focus that raises the fear level to a work I rarely use because it has become almost diminished by over use. “Nazi Level”

  32. rvoss
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Since Galileo, or about then, scientists came up with a new kind of law: descriptive law. Before then all laws were proscriptive, as in “God proscribes.”
    So whenever I hear the phase “nature follows certain laws” I know that someone is confusing cause and effect. Nature does not follow any laws. It merely tends to act in a consistent manner as we have so far observed. These descriptive laws can change if our observations indicate that we got it wrong.
    Saying that nature follows laws makes it easier to assert that something (a god) put down the laws first and then nature subsequently follows the laws. This is semantic subterfuge.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 1:21 am | Permalink

      Would you then call “nature’s laws” emergent properties of physics, chemistry, biology, et.al.?

      • rvoss
        Posted October 6, 2015 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        My understanding of an “emergent property” is when two or more things combine to produce a result that was not anticipated by the properties of the constituents.
        In my view,”Natures Laws” is a term used by some to establish some sort of authority to what is just our best understanding (so far) of the way nature behaves.
        I think our best hope for gaining knowledge is the scientific attitude that “all knowledge is provisional.”

    • Posted October 5, 2015 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      I think you need to re-read your history of science. The whole mechanistic philosophy and the notion of physical laws as prescribed by God is what kickstarted the birth of modern science in the 17th Century.

      • rvoss
        Posted October 6, 2015 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

        You are quite right. My feeble attempt to invoke a historical basis for my point has now backfired on me.

  33. Vaal
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    I read Edward Feser’s original piece. I think some of his criticisms are legitimate (I have found myself cringing sometimes listening to Krauss once he treads into philosophical areas without acknowledging it).

    A bunch of what Feser wrote is contestable, but this really stuck out:

    Feser: The point for present purposes is just this: From the point of view of the main arguments for God’s existence, it is a mistake to think that the place to look for evidence of God is within the domain investigated by science. Rather, the place to look is somewhere more fundamental—at what any possible science must itself presuppose.

    This is the usual two-step, as Sam Harris puts it “hiding the ball with the articles of faith,” where the Christian jumps into deist mode as it suits him to do so.

    Feser’s God, as we know purportedly DID manifest physically, empirically, and gave empirical evidence. Once you are into the realm of empirical claims, you are on the turf of science, and science is the best way we have of vetting empirical claims. If Feser is going to accept the legitimacy of science as he claims, he can’t have it both ways and hold the ACTUAL GOD he believes in off the table.

    So either Feser is willing to give up his belief in the empirical claims for his God and thus Christianity, or he’s going to be seen as playing a disingenuous game.

    • Posted October 5, 2015 at 2:28 am | Permalink

      Agreed!

    • eric
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Yes its the old two-step; be a theist on Sunday, but a deist on Monday.

    • Posted October 5, 2015 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      You really need to distinguish the question of whether a God exists with the claims of particular religions!

  34. kelskye
    Posted October 5, 2015 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    If religious people didn’t make any claims about the world, then there’d be no problem with science. “It’s all metaphysics” rings hollow when people claim the divinity of Jesus.

    “Why is there a world at all? Therefore, immaculate conception.” is always missing in these articles, which is why such articles are always so disingenuous to the point the atheists are actually trying to make. Either that or Feser comes out in agreement that all the contingent claims of Catholicism and every other religion are bunk…

  35. Posted October 5, 2015 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    Religion as manifestation in the public domain is just another ideology.
    I prefer to characterize its ideas as goddities, only of interest to shrinks.

  36. daniel bertini
    Posted October 5, 2015 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Can someone explain what Fesser is trying to say in this comment:
    “Krauss might reply that, unlike checkers, dentistry, or engineering, science covers all of reality.”

    • Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      Feser’s analogy is that one wouldn’t expect to find evidence of God in playing checkers, or to extend the analogy, one wouldn’t expect to find evidence about the creator of checkers while participating in checker games, nor would one expect the creator of checkers ever to be mentioned. This doesn’t mean that checkers didn’t have a creator, or in Feser’s analogy, which he generalizes to any entities X and Y, that God doesn’t exist. Feser’s argument takes the form, “Failure to mention X in the course of doing Y doesn’t disprove X.” In this case, X is checkers and Y is God. Feser’s rebuttal to Krauss uses X = the natural world (or something roughly equivalent, Feser doesn’t really explicitly state this anywhere) and Y = God. Feser’s point is that Krauss claims science covers everything, not a limited domain like checkers and this is the main point of contention between the two views.

      The problem with Feser’s argument and checkers analogy, as has been touched on elsewhere in this thread, is that Feser’s God is not a god lacking in physical manifestations and closed to evidence. For starters we have the main claim about Catholicism–Jesus died, rose again and then ascended into Heaven. That belief alone is loaded with empirically testable claims about Biology, Physics, and perhaps Geography (depending how literally one wants to take Jesus’ trip to Heaven).

      But it doesn’t stop there. Catholicism has miracles baked into its theology; the Church requires a “verified miracle” to canonize saints. That alone amounts to thousands of historical miraculous claims. Anyhow, without digressing further, Feser really needs to update his checkers analogy. In the Catholic’s view of God, you just had your last piece captured, but it suddenly manifested itself on the other side of the board by disappearing and coming through the table, crowned itself king and jumped all the remaining pieces to secure victory when the game was already lost. Feser does the exact thing he accuses Krauss of doing when he insists that Krauss is wrong in looking for empirical evidence of God’s handiwork. We aren’t discussing the philosophers’ deistic god for whom I’ll readily admit is logically possible but for whom there cannot be any evidence for. We’re discussing the Living God who takes a daily interest in human activities. Feser seems to like discussing the former in public but the latter when he attends Church on Sunday.

      • Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        Argh, reversed X and Y above…but hopefully the point is clear.

        • daniel Bertini
          Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          Thanks, and much appreciated. Wow now there are two d*gs we have to deal with. A living and a not living!!

  37. Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I think that we need to first of all try to establish whether it’s reasonable or not to believe in a creator. If so then what the characteristics of such a creator might be.

    Instead what we have with atheists is either atheism is true, or the God of some organised religion is true. A choice between 2 absurdities. No other more nuanced position is allowed!

    I’m entirely in agreement with everything that Feser says on this topic. (I don’t agree with him on other things eg I’m certainly not right wing).

    • Geoff Benson
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Whether or not it’s reasonable to believe in a creator depends on there being evidence. As there is no such evidence I fail to see why an atheistic worldview is absurd.

      Feser also appreciates, whether he acknowledges it or not, that there is no evidence for a creator. Hence his semantic gymnastics in trying to pretend there is evidence; obfuscation in other words.

      • Anders
        Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

        @Geoff, Feser does believe in evidence for a creator. For example, he would take change in the physical world as evidence. Whether the logic he then uses to get from change to god is valid is a different story. But if Feser is wrong, it’s not because he has *no* evidence.

        • Posted October 5, 2015 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

          Why should we take seriously such profoundly awful “evidence”?

          People who believe in Bigfoot offer up far better “evidence” than Feser has going for him, and yet they don’t rate more than a dismissive laugh. Why should Feser deserve better?

          b&

          • forsyth
            Posted October 6, 2015 at 10:29 am | Permalink

            > Why should Feser deserve better?

            Well if he’s doing what you imply, he doesn’t. But to figure out if that is what he’s doing, could you explain more what you’re referring to when you say that change in the physical world is “awful ‘evidence'”.
            I can think of at least three ways to read what you said:

            1. You don’t believe that there even is “change in the physical world”
            2. You believe that change exists but that it is a brute fact
            2. You believe that change exists but that there are (or eventually will be) far better ways of explaining it than Feser’s (useless, in your view?) god stuff.

            Or something else I haven’t thought of. What exactly did you mean by “awful ‘evidence'”?

            • Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:04 am | Permalink

              You believe that change exists but that there are (or eventually will be) far better ways of explaining it than Feser’s (useless, in your view?) god stuff.

              Well, of course. Feser’s got to have the most childishly idiotic explanation for change one could possibly propose. It was bad enough when Aristotle and friends suggested it. Holding on to it after Newton was dubious in the extreme — and continuing to hold on to it after Darwin simply inexcusable. But today!? With modern physics including Big Bang cosmogenesis strongly implying a multiverse? And we still have to put up with bullshit from idiots like Feser insisting that, no, it really was a magic zombie after all?

              Please.

              b&

    • Posted October 5, 2015 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Instead what we have with atheists is either atheism is true, or the God of some organised religion is true.

      Citation please? I won’t claim that someone somewhere hasn’t presented such a strange dichotomy, but I’ve seen this argument on this site nor from any prominent atheist thinker. The general goal is to address the theistic claim being made, not say, “this God or nothing.”

    • Posted October 5, 2015 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      It may well be reasonable to believe in a creator if you subscribe, as Feser does, to Aristotelian teleology. This may have been a respectable position as recently as the middle ages.

      But if you look to modern science you see that its success has come only by discarding teleology. Teleology is recognized as a form of magical thinking, like essentialism (to which Feser also adheres?), that comes naturally to humans but impedes our understanding of reality.

      Krauss’s point from the title of his article is that if you use science as your guide it is unreasonable to believe in a creator.

    • darrelle
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      “I think that we need to first of all try to establish whether it’s reasonable or not to believe in a creator.”

      That is not a bad place to start. What methods do you propose to do so? Do you think that empirical evidence bears on this question or that mere philosophical contemplation is all that is necessary?

      You don’t seem to have noticed that one of the primary reasons that people of science have tended to become nonbelievers over the centuries, increasing percentages as we approach the present, is that as the application of science has yielded more and more accurate & useful explanations for more and more aspects of our reality, in not a single case has a creator been a necessary component of the explanation.

      Please note that it is not the case that scientists have been attempting to disprove a creator and cleverly finding ways to exclude one from their explanations. No, it is merely that positing a creator has yet to be necessary to explain anything.

      So we have a pretty good body of reasons why it is not particularly reasonable to believe in a creator. It is unreasonable to assign anything other than a very low order of probability for any creator other than something similar to a deistic one. In that case, who knows and why should anyone care? By that definition we can never know and even if we could it would not make a difference to anything at all. But that pretty clearly rules out any of the large number of theistic gods that have been dreamnt of by humans.

      Your implication that atheists don’t consider that rather trivial first step is inaccurate, as is your charge that atheists argue that either atheism is true or the god of some organized religion is true. That really speaks to how little experience you have with “what atheists say,” and even what the term atheist means.

  38. forsyth
    Posted October 5, 2015 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    > …in science no values are sacred, and
    >it’s abandoning the notion that any ideas
    > are beyond question…that militates
    > against religious authoritarianism,
    > endemic to most faiths.

    Is that idea — the idea that no values are sacred — sacred or not?

  39. Posted October 5, 2015 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    I beggars the imagination that people are still trotting out the cosmological argument.

    1. Everything has a cause
    2. The universe exists and therefore has a cause
    3. The cause is God and he can freely violate premise #1 (well, because I say so!)

    Really? Good grief!

    • Anders
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      @jblile, it beggars the imagination that people are still trotting out the same mis-statement of the CA. Premiss 1 is wrong.

      See http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/so-you-think-you-understand.html for details, or http://www.darklingwood.com/2014/09/the-phantasmagorical-argument-for-gods-existence.html for a simpler treatment of the same thing.

      • Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

        See the response I just made to Vaal. The whole notion of “comes into existence” is more of the exact same bullshit, just marginally obfuscated in a logically-equivalent way.

        b&

        • Anders
          Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

          @Ben: Well, I was addressing jblilie who simply got the CA wrong. Whether you think the CA is valid is neither here not there in that respect.It frustrates me that ill-read atheists give the rest of us a bad name. We can start fixing that by at least getting fellow atheists to know exactly what the opposition’s arguments actually are.

          Now on your response to Vaal, well I’d want to press you on a couple of things there.

          First, although there are situations where “coming into existence” is a fuzzy concept, not all are like that. So it’s not exactly “incoherent nonsense”. Agreed? Given that fact — i.e that that it is not universally applicable — does your Sorites attack still work? (I’m not saying it doesn’t — just interested to hear your view.)

          Second, you dealt only with the “coming into existence” issue. What about the contingency side of things. As an atheist, I don’t think we need a 3O God to explain contingency, but I’d like *an* explanation, or at least some candidates for one.

          • Posted October 5, 2015 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

            First, although there are situations where “coming into existence” is a fuzzy concept, not all are like that.

            Name one you think suitable for the discussion. About the cleanest example there would be would be the spontaneous appearance of a subatomic particle in the quantum vacuum, and we know that that is the perfect example of something that has no cause.

            Worse…the entire argument depends on splitting all of existence into “necessary” and “contingent,” with the favorite local god being the only “necessary” entity and everything else being “contingent.” But we’ve already seen that nothing at human scales actually fits into the “had a beginning” category (at which point in the accretion from the interstellar molecular cloud that served as the nursery for the Solar System did the Earth actually exist?), and so everything around us doesn’t fit into either category in the first place.

            Because the entire argument is profoundly incoherent, based on ancient superstition from people so scientifically ignorant and unsophisticated they hadn’t even figured out how to represent the number zero.

            As an atheist, I don’t think we need a 3O God to explain contingency, but I’d like *an* explanation, or at least some candidates for one.

            I’ll explain “contingency” (in this context) to you as soon as you tell me what breed of horse Apollo prefers when he draws the Sun across the sky in its chariot.

            b&

            • forsyth
              Posted October 6, 2015 at 10:45 am | Permalink

              > we know that [the spontaneous appearance
              > of a subatomic particle in the quantum
              > vacuum]is the perfect example of something
              > that has no cause.

              I don’t think we know that at all. All we can say for sure is that we have been unable to find a cause.

              > …the entire argument depends on splitting
              > all of existence into “necessary” and
              > “contingent,” …nothing at human scales
              > actually fits into the “had a beginning”
              > category

              You’re conflating contingency with “had a beginning”. Personally I think the versions of the CA that rest on the latter (e.g. Kalam) are the weakest forms. I’m more interested in the arguments from contingency and from change. (I’m not saying they are valid, but I don’t dismiss them as “incoherent” they way you seem to.)

              • Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:15 am | Permalink

                > we know that [the spontaneous appearance > of a subatomic particle in the quantum > vacuum]is the perfect example of something > that has no cause.

                I don’t think we know that at all. All we can say for sure is that we have been unable to find a cause.

                Let me introduce you to Mr. Heisenberg.

                You’re conflating contingency with “had a beginning”.

                No, I’m just playing whack-a-mole. Theist A plays the contingency card, says others are bunk. Theist B says that the real claim is that everything that has a beginning has a cause. And so on.

                All of them insist that their formulation deserves to be taken seriously and is nothing at all like all the others. (Just like their gods!) Yet, not a one of them recognizes that they’re all just variations on Aristotelian Metaphysics, all are as thoroughly idiotic in light of Newton and the rest as all the others…

                …and, really?

                Somebody comes to me, says that the Earth is flat, but its flatness is that of a giant cube laying on an immense plain. And, because his flat Earth theory is nothing at all like anybody else’s, I have to waste my time telling him in precise detail just why he’s an idiot or else I’m not addressing the strongest from of the Flat Earth Theory.

                Causality in the Aristotelian sense is bullshit. Sometimes it’s useful bullshit, in the same way that assuming that the Earth is flat is useful for when you just want to drive across town and so refer to the map you spread on the flat table. But it’s still bullshit.

                Can we please accept that Aristotelian causality is bullshit and stop appealing to it?

                b&

          • Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:42 am | Permalink

            See above – there’s nothing (ahem) to explain.

            • Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:54 am | Permalink

              Well, I agree with the argument that we should address the claims being made. The “What caused God?” response is not the rebuttal for the claims Feser and his fellow Thomists put on the table. The central premise is that the Universe itself is contingent, which presents a problem before we even get to addressing contingencies. Is the Universe our Hubble Volume, or is it as Sagan put it for the cosmos, “All there is, was, or ever shall be?” In the latter sense asking about external causes for the totality of everything is incoherent. And, as you point out, the only coherent examples of contingency we have are examples of individual things within the Universe and that contingency cannot just simply be applied to the whole.

              The contingency claims have further problems. I think the “ground of being” argument actually has more problems than the Kalam version. Sure, they lay out reasons why they think things must be sustained, but how can this be demonstrated? Whether they want to admit it or not, claiming that an underlying something is keeping everything afloat is an empirical claim. This underlying something is necessarily interacting with everything in some way and should in principle be detectable. And if that thing is unchanging and undetectable, how can we even begin to assign characteristics to it?

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 5, 2015 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

        From Anders’s source 2:

        Of course, fully to grasp the Cosmological Argument, or to attempt to refute it, one needs a lot more than just an awareness of that extra word. At the heart of such arguments are extremely sophisticated concepts, and arguments thereon, of: being, nothing, cause, actuality, potency, and so on. Tackling such things is possible by anyone of reasonable intelligence who is prepared to put in a lot of work, but you have to do the work, and the majority of what we see among the so-called “new” atheists isn’t backed by that work…

        “…extremely sophisticated concepts…” Weasel words indeed.

        • Posted October 6, 2015 at 12:08 am | Permalink

          Keep reading, and you’ll find that it’s the Squidly One’s Courtier’s Reply through and through.

          No, we don’t need to answer Feser’s insistence that things wouldn’t move if they weren’t pushed upon, no matter how he tries to obfuscate the claim. Newton showed that the very premise simply doesn’t hold, and it’s not our place to offer remedial physics instruction to people who’ve repeatedly demonstrated such a profound loyalty to such thoroughly-discredited superstition.

          b&

          • Diane G.
            Posted October 6, 2015 at 1:02 am | Permalink

            I skimmed it all…

            “remedial physics lessons” 😀

          • Anders
            Posted October 6, 2015 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            > Newton showed that the very premise
            > simply doesn’t hold,

            Newton codified past observations into rules with which one can predict the future. But he didn’t explain the mechanism by which those particular rules apply. He didn’t explain the mechanism by which *any* rules apply. Nor did he explain the mechanism by which the rules that do appear to have applied in the past appear to continue to apply in the future.

            Newton did Physics — and Physics *assumes* a lawful universe. And as Einstein noted, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible”

            • Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:24 am | Permalink

              Newton showed that no mechanism is necessary. And physics doesn’t assume a lawful universe; it concludes a lawful one — and, indeed, the entire day job of physicists for quite some time has been looking for situations where the laws break down.

              There’s no presumption necessary to have overwhelming confidence in the acceleration of gravity. Just grab an apple and a stopwatch and you’ll have no trouble independently verifying it for yourself.

              And, again. It doesn’t matter if these regularities are universal, local, or even just a seemingly-impossible streak of coin tosses coming up “heads” in the middle of an unimaginably-long fair random series. Were there no regularities, we wouldn’t be here to observe them; anybody who is in a position to observe anything is going to observe regularities, even if those regularities really are just an illusion of statistics.

              b&

        • Anders
          Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:22 am | Permalink

          Would you consider them weasel words in the following contexts:

          “String theory involves extremely sophisticated concepts”

          “The solving of Fermat’s Last Theorem required the deployment of extremely sophisticated content”

          If yes, then fair enough; I guess I don’t share your understanding of the word “weasel” 🙂
          If not, then why are you picking on Metaphysics?

          Look, here’s an example. Within scholastic metaphysics specifically, the prevailing ontology is something called “hylomorphic dualism”. It’s an alternative to (Cartesian) substance dualism on the one hand, and property dualism on the other. Hylomorphism really is an extremely sophisticated concept. We don’t have to believe it’s true to accept that it is a sophisticated idea based on advanced and layered argument.

          Here’s another. Theists of the Thomas Aquinas style argue (argue, not “state”) that god is not “a being” but rather just “pure being”. My initial response on hearing that was basically “WTF?” But I’ve now studied it in some depth and, again, it is *highly* non-trivial.

          Again, I’m not defending these concepts, nor arguments resting on them. But as that blog post implies, anyone who has not put in a serious amount of work to first understand and only *then* refute, is opening themselves up to ridicule.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Perfect, jblilie!

      • Anders
        Posted October 5, 2015 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        @Diane, which part of “Premiss 1 is wrong” did you not understand?

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 5, 2015 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

          Would you please express what it should be, in that form?

          • Vaal
            Posted October 6, 2015 at 1:13 am | Permalink

            Diane G.

            By far the most well known and popular version of the (Kalam) Cosmological argument is William L. Craig’s version.

            The first premise is:

            1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

            So note the difference. It’s not “whatever exists has a cause.” (That would include everything, including God). It’s, more qualified: whatever BEGINS to exist has a cause of it’s existence.

            So anything that did not have a beginning – e.g. an eternal God – would not be described in premise one and therefore avoid the charge of special pleading.

            You can read the rest of it here:

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-existence-of-god-and-the-beginning-of-the-universe

            Craig produces arguments for God being a necessary (and hence eternal with no beginning) Being.

            Once theists like Craig further develop their supporting arguments for the main premises, you can start detecting various fallacies (special pleading, question begging etc). But the argument itself is NOT
            explicitly, structurally self-refuting and special pleading in the form jblilie gave.

            • Diane G.
              Posted October 6, 2015 at 1:30 am | Permalink

              Thank you, Vaal. I’m sure that’s something I’ve skimmed over many times here without paying attention. Nice of you to bother to do so again.

              I don’t understand why we have to buy the first premise, though.

              • Vaal
                Posted October 6, 2015 at 2:00 am | Permalink

                Diane G.

                The first premise relies on our normal intuitions of causation that we seem to use everywhere else.

                We normally presume everything has a cause. If you come home and find your kitchen floor covered in water, you assume there is some explanation/reason/cause for this. Same with everything else in your experience. Science proceeds by assuming there are explanations for what we observe.
                (And “things that begin to exist” is a subset of things that must have “some explanation/cause.”)

                So Craig’s gambit is that this principle is such a ubiquitous and apparently necessary assumption that you question at your peril.
                And that one would be special pleading to suddenly drop this principle ONLY in the case of the beginning of the universe.

                There are of course various rebuttals to this, but that’s the general idea of why premise 1 is supposed to have intuitive, hard to deny plausibility.

              • Posted October 6, 2015 at 8:58 am | Permalink

                If you come home and find your kitchen floor covered in water, you assume there is some explanation/reason/cause for this.

                This is an artifact of perception.

                You can generally draw a pair of lines in a continuum and identify one condition as holding at one point and an incompatible condition at another point. Yet, you cannot draw a third line on that same continuum to identify the point where the new condition came into being.

                When you left your home, it was dry. When you returned, the kitchen was flooded. When you left, the faucet was dripping because you hadn’t closed it all the way. And you had left the drain stopped, for whatever reason. The first drip did not result in your home being flooded. Long after that first drip, the umpteenth drip filled the sink and caused the water to edge onto the countertop, but your home still was not flooded. Many more drips later, and the first drip onto the floor, and your home is still not flooded. Fast forward to the time when you get home and discover a flooded kitchen, and it is flooded. But an hour before when there were many fewer drips from the faucet, the kitchen was not dry.

                We can trace the chain of events that contributed to the terminal condition of the kitchen being flooded…but, at no point, can we claim that the flood had a beginning, or that there was a discreet cause for the flood itself. Was the cause the leaky faucet, or the phone call that distracted you from unstopping the sink? Maybe the real cause was that the original builder neglected to install a drain in the floor to prevent such mishaps from being damaging. Maybe the cause was your incompetence at sink installation — but your incompetence is solely the result of a similar incompetence on the part of the salescritter at the home improvement store who assured you any fool can install a sink. Maybe the sink would never have leaked had the water pressure remained at the low value it had always been, but the city’s upgrade of the water treatment facilities boosted the pressure and caused the drip. And if you hadn’t run into your friend at the store and decided to go to lunch, you would’ve gotten home when the water hadn’t spilled off the countertop.

                In reality, of course, it’s all of the above and a great deal more…and we’re somehow from all of this to conclude that there is a cause for the flooding in the kitchen?

                No.

                The very premise is baseless primitive superstition, and not at all something that deserves to be taken seriously.

                Seriously!

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted October 6, 2015 at 2:11 am | Permalink

                Thanks, Vaal. I do understand that part of it. I guess I’m so used to thinking of the universe as possibly causeless that I make exceptions in my own logic for it. (For years–a few decades or more ago–I was a steady-state fan.) And isn’t there a difference between a cause and a “causer?” I.e., the laws of physics would be a cause, but not an intentional one, for some phenomena.

              • Diane G.
                Posted October 6, 2015 at 2:16 am | Permalink

                (And I have no idea why I jumped in here to rehash concepts that have been covered in previous threads! Sorry!)

            • Posted October 6, 2015 at 8:43 am | Permalink

              But the argument itself is NOT explicitly, structurally self-refuting and special pleading in the form jblilie gave.

              …except, of course, that it is.

              Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

              “Everything that moves has a mover” is a subset of that claim — the motion would be that which is claimed to begin to exist, and the mover the cause of the existence of the motion — and we know first from Newton and subsequently all of modern physics that such a claim is incoherent.

              There really, truly, honestly isn’t anything in there that deserves to be taken seriously, any more than the claims of Flat Earth proponents.

              b&

              • Vaal
                Posted October 6, 2015 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

                “…except, of course, that it is. “

                No it’s not, Ben.

                jblilie gave a form of argument in a way that the premises of the argument were clearly structurally self-refuting/special pleading.

                It’s fairly trivial for any decent philosopher to present an argument that avoids this structure – a valid argument (not necessarily sound) and Craig and others do this.

                For instance, a typical formulation of the first argument goes:

                P1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
                P2. The Universe Began to exist.

                Therefore: The Universe had a cause.

                That is a completely valid formal argument that does not beg any questions or involve special pleading. And positing that the cause of the universe would be something that did not have the feature “began to exist” (e.g. God) also does not result in formal, viscous self-refutation of the sort
                jblilie presented.

                Of course you can attack support for the premises, but you are confusing the idea that you can undermine the supporting arguments for the premises with the proposition the premises of the arguments are formally self-refuting and question begging. It’s not the same thing.

              • Posted October 6, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

                P1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause. P2. The Universe Began to exist.

                Therefore: The Universe had a cause.

                <sigh />

                First, “begins to exist,” as I’ve repeatedly shown in this thread, is incoherent and simply doesn’t apply to the sorts of phenomenon theists are eager to apply causality to. Secondly, we know that causality itself is only superficially applicable at macro-scale phenomenon and doesn’t even remotely hold up upon post-Newtonian scrutiny. And, finally, even if we handwave all that away…in this context, “The Universe” can only have a definition congruent with Sagan’s “Cosmos”; in that case, anything external to the Universe, including purported causes, are themselves nonexistent.

                I get it that philosophers think arguments such as the one you presented are to be taken seriously. And that’s a perfect demonstration of why philosophy itself isn’t to be taken seriously.

                And I get it that theologians and philosophers object to dismissals of Aristotelian Metaphysics that correctly describe it as just as idiotically superstitious as young flat Earth geocentricism. But tough shit. It’s not my problem that theologians and philosophers reject Newton!

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted October 6, 2015 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                You are still confusing challenging the supporting arguments for a premise with whether the premises themselves are self contradictory. Whether anything *in reality* “begins to exist” or not doesn’t make it “incoherent.” I can not in reality
                cause water to boil by saying “abracadabra” but that doesn’t mean it is an incoherent, self contradiction.

                First, “begins to exist,” as I’ve repeatedly shown in this thread, is incoherent

                Ben, you haven’t shown anything of the sort; similar to the free will debate, you’ve simply introduced your own untenable notion of “begins to exist” and then…surprise!…dismissed it as untenable! Your argument – your other reply about the kitchen flood – actually descends (if followed through) into special pleading and incoherence. It puts such high demands on what could count as a “cause” or “beginning” that virtually nothing in the world would satisfy it. And yet when you have a leak in the house you are still going to presume it has a cause/explanation and go looking for it. If you were a plumber and couldn’t convey information through the question “What CAUSED the leak” you’d be one hell of a useless plumber. But no one presumes asking a plumber “what caused the leak?” is a demand for every causal link in the chain. Only the RELEVANT ONES that give us information to act upon. Just like it makes no sense to demand one have Perfect Knowledge to make a claim to know something, no one DEMANDS the type of absolute account of a causal chain that you demand in your argument.

                If that were the case we could never point to the beginning of anything: “At the beginning of the film, Matt Damon’s character becomes trapped…” or “the symphonic performance is beginning now” etc.

                Impossible demands like yours would entail science couldn’t employ concepts like “species” and “speciation” etc.

                “I get it that philosophers think arguments such as the one you presented are to be taken seriously. And that’s a perfect demonstration of why philosophy itself isn’t to be taken seriously.”

                And yet, here you are as usual doing philosophy. Your diving into what we experience and what it COULD MEAN for something to “begin to exist” is exactly the type of concept-analysing done by philosophers. Many people who haven’t thought through the concept of causation/explanation/beginnings will see your counter-intuitive analysis as exactly the type of tom-foolery and obscurantism you see when other philosophers do it. When you philosophize this way, we are to pay attention. But should it be brought up that philosophers may offer alternative philosophizing, well, no need to take them seriously because after all, they are doing philosophy.

          • Anders
            Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:10 am | Permalink

            Hi @Diane, there are several forms of the Cosmological Argument (none of which look like jblilie’s). Vaal has mentioned one — the Kalam. Its first premiss is typically expressed as “Everything that begins to exist has a cause”.

            For my point of view,however, I don’t see why theists bother with that one, since its accompanying argument just seems weak to me. And while I disagree with Ben[1] in his assertion that we know certain quantum events are uncaused, I do think that them even *appearing* to be uncaused is a challenge for Kalam. That’s partly how Sean Carroll handed William Lane Craig his ass during their debate 🙂

            So the version of the CA I’m most intrigued by have the following first premiss:

            1. Every contingent thing has a cause

            That and its ensuing argument I find very challenging. In that respect they’re like Anselm’s Ontological argument. I’m pretty sure it’s wrong, but it’s not easy to see where the flaw is. In fact, if anything I’d say the contingency-based CA is even tougher than the OA.

            Anyway, however you slice it, we do ourselves no favors as atheists if we don’t call out slips the way jblilie did. Another example is the scream-inducing pretend-rebuttal of “OK then, so what caused god?” Theists are wrong, but not all of them are god-soaked loons. Those, the smart ones, are not *trivially* wrong, and they deserve our (well, at least my) intellectual respect.

            [1] I started commenting with the username forsyth but that’s now breaking for some reason. So Anders=forsyth.

            • Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:26 am | Permalink

              Every contingent thing has a cause

              Evidence, please.

              Give us your best real-world example of something contingent and its cause.

              And when you realize why you’ll be utterly unable to do so without resorting to special pleading, you’ll understand why the rest of us are so dismissive of this nonsense, whatever form it takes.

              b&

              • Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:46 am | Permalink

                Doesn’t matter, since the universe as a whole is not contigent. To move from parts to whole, as is done, is a mistake.

                Also, it had no beginning, and the Hubble volume has its initial conditions erased. What god?

              • Posted October 6, 2015 at 11:50 am | Permalink

                More to the point…even one “contingent” whatever that lacks a cause is sufficient to disprove the claim. Heisenberg did that with style…

                b&

              • Anders
                Posted October 6, 2015 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                Ben, before I answer your main question, let me ask you one. Why your final paragraph? The rest of your comment was great, and an example of what I look for in discussions. In fact the whole reason I explore these areas and get involved in forum discussions is because I want to learn. I want my own views to be tested, and I don’t care what the truth ends up being. In that sense I take a sceptical scientific approach. I continually attempt to break my own beliefs.

                That’s why I’m here. Why are you?

              • Posted October 6, 2015 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

                Why?

                Because every flippin’ time this or a similar topic comes up, it’s all the same bullshit obfuscation that we really should have known better about millennia ago.

                You’d expect similar exasperation from me for somebody insisting that I had to take seriously claims that the Earth is flat and / or the center of the Universe, right?

                Well, my challenge to you to present evidence of something contingent and its cause that’s supportive of theological claims is no different from me pointing to a YouTube video of aurora viewed from the ISS. I honestly don’t expect a serious response from you — and your initial refusal to do so only confirms my expectations.

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted October 6, 2015 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                “Evidence, please.”

                It is merely a broad statement of the principle we all use every day, and which drives science itself: that there are explanations (e.g. causes) for why things happen.

                For instance, what do you think the science of Pathology is all about? (Hint: has to do with the causes and effects of diseases).

                What assumption/principle do you think motivates scientists when some disturbing new symptoms arise in some African community etc?

                When people started bleeding from their eyes and other orifices in Africa, scientists assumed – quite reasonably – that there was a cause/reason, right?

                If we wake up tomorrow and the moon is 1/2 blown to bits, will you think “well, there’s a strange brute fact that we may as well not question” or do you think we will naturally, and reasonably, presume there is an explanation for why it is blown apart, rather than not blown apart?

                What exactly are you going to challenge?

              • Posted October 6, 2015 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

                When people started bleeding from their eyes and other orifices in Africa, scientists assumed – quite reasonably – that there was a cause/reason, right?

                Perfect example.

                You’d of course latch onto, “Ebola!” as the reason.

                And while such a simplistic answer can be very useful in a great many ways, it’s such a gross oversimplification it’s not even funny.

                Is the cause the bacteria itself? Maybe just one particular gene / mutation in the bacteria? Is it the immune response to the bacteria? Is it the (lack of) sanitary conditions in the affected regions? Is it the general poor state of health care, and therefore sub-Saharan poverty and eventually European colonialism to blame?

                You can suitably identify any one of those phenomena, in addition to countless others I haven’t even hinted at (the distant star whose supernova caused the cosmic ray that caused the mutation?) as an essential factor without which people wouldn’t have started bleeding uncontrollably. And all have equal claim to being the one true “cause” of the outbreak.

                And that’s because causality itself is an exercise in division by zero.

                Causality, again, can sometimes be a convenient shorthand in the same way that a flat map can help you navigate the Earth. But you can’t go the other direction. Just as you can’t say, “This map is useful in helping me find my way to the drugstore, and the map is flat, so therefore the Earth is flat,” you also can’t say, “Pretending causality is meaningful helps us prevent future disease outbreaks, so therefore causality is a real phenomenon.”

                Why is this so difficult to understand? Isn’t this the whole point of the child’s “Why?” game? “Why is the water boiling? Because I want some tea. Why do you want some tea? Because I’m thirsty. Why are you thirsty?” Or, “Why is the water boiling? Because the stove is adding sufficient energy to break the weak bonds in liquid water such that it transitions to a gaseous phase. Why does that happen at 100°C? Because Anders Celsius.” Or, “Why does the stove get hot?” And on and on and on. They all answer the question, “Why is the water boiling. Indeed, there’re an infinite number of equally-valid answers to the question, none of which are actually valid…

                …just like the question, “What do you get when you divide by zero?” Pick a number; any number. It’s as good an answer to the question as any. And it’s the same as, “What do you get when you divide by the difference of two and two” or an infinite number of such equivalent questions.

                Just because you can ask a question doesn’t mean that the question is meaningful.

                Why can’t you first stop and ask whether or not the question should even be asked in the first place?

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted October 6, 2015 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                Your reply about ebola does nothing to undermine, or even deny the point: that when something happens we presume there is a
                reason/explanation/cause.

                That the causal chain may be long, or complex, is no argument against this. And you can’t really argue against it without becoming incoherent in the rest of your life and your beliefs.

                Please see my reply further up; here you are repeating the same
                impossible demands for explanations and causation. That, as you say, “simplistic answer can be very useful” is the point – why would we employ *useless* concepts of causation/explanation?
                To ask “what caused the pipe to spring a leak?” to answer with an explanation (causal reasons) concerning for instance the physics of pipe freezing and expanding is just the type of causal explanation we need to inform suitable remedies (e.g. insulate the pipes).

                Scientists deliberately, limit their demands for particular causal explanations for this reason all the time – e.g. what cause X mutation? If this wasn’t a coherent, reasonable, justified way of asking for causes/explanations, then science itself would be utterly undermined.

                It’s one thing if you want to challenge this premise of causation/explanation *in the specific case a theist wants to apply it for the Kalam argument.* And many have raised similar flags as you are raising (I have myself often). But what you seem to be doing is challenging the very *concept* of causality and demands for explanation itself, and that gets weird, fast.

              • Posted October 6, 2015 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

                That the causal chain may be long, or complex, is no argument against this.

                On the contrary. The causal chain isn’t merely long or complex; it is inextricably connected with everything within the event’s relativistic boundary. While it’s very useful to conceptualize things in isolation, they aren’t actually isolated. Your own genetic makeup is contingent on the conditions at the moment of your conception, which in turn is contingent upon all sorts of quantum mechanical and cosmic events during each of your parents’s lifetimes, as well as the conditions of their conception, and so on all the way back to the universal common ancestor. As such, everything about you and your life, everything you’ve ever done, is contingent upon said universal common ancestor…and all your other ancestors as well. Their entire lives and the entire circumstances surrounding their lives. Change even an inconsequential detail at any point along the way and you wouldn’t even exist.

                That, as you say, “simplistic answer can be very useful” is the point – why would we employ *useless* concepts of causation/explanation?

                For the exact same reason that you spread a map out on a flat table when you want to figure out how to get to the drugstore. You don’t need to know the exact location of every subatomic particle between you and the drugstore to get there; you don’t even need to know that the Earth is an oblate spheroid. The map is a “good enough” approximation.

                But the map is not the territory.

                But what you seem to be doing is challenging the very *concept* of causality and demands for explanation itself, and that gets weird, fast.

                Yes, I am; and so what if it gets weird?

                But there’s a very fundamental reason for why we must insist not on convenient rough approximations in this case, and that’s because the Prime Mover is being put forth as a valid theory of cosmogenesis. Seeing how this model of cosmogenesis is based not on actual physics but Aristotelian Metaphysics, should it be any surprise that it’s so batshit fucking insane?

                When we consider causality in the actual physics we know will actually apply to any actual model of cosmogenesis…well, right off the bat, we know that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is going to be inescapable, and that right there plays hash with even any pretenses about everyday macro-scale notions of causality. And we also know that the energy densities are such that Relativity is inescapable, and that again puts all attempts at causality Relatively incoherent — each locality has its own equally-valid (appearance of a) causal chain diametrically opposed in many cases to neighboring localities — Alice sees the runner leave first base before the pitcher throws the ball, but Bob sees the pitcher throw first, and the runner and pitcher each have their own different perspectives as well.

                So, yes. Of course, in everyday life it’s a nice mental shortcut to compartmentalize observations into isolated imaginary Platonically ideal worlds with distinct causalities…but that’s not the world we actually live in.

                Any more than we live on a flat Earth.

                b&

            • Vaal
              Posted October 6, 2015 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

              Ben,

              “While it’s very useful to conceptualize things in isolation, they aren’t actually isolated.”

              Of course. But as I keep pointing out: since the normal demands for explanations/causes – that type that drive us all, including science – don’t rely on wide claims of total isolation in the first place, your bringing this up will continue to be a moot point.

              You asked for a real-world example of something contingent and it’s cause. Someone bleeding out their orifices, the cause being identified as ebola, are normally accepted, coherent examples. If they aren’t, again, science itself isn’t coherent. Nor is much of your own behaviour.

              You are appealing to your own, untenable criteria for causal explanations – one not normally appealed to – to dismiss any possible real world example. That’s just begging the question. I’m not begging the question because Ive explained why one conception of causal explanation (mine, the common one) is both more accepted AND conceptually preferable to another (yours).

              And then you go right on into the very language that establishes the premise you are trying to refute:

              “Your own genetic makeup is contingent on the conditions at the moment of your conception, which in turn is contingent upon all sorts of quantum mechanical and cosmic events during each of your parents’s lifetimes,…”

              Exactly! You are speaking the language of “contingency” which is the conceptual scheme the Kalam argument presumes! See, you can’t help it.

              ” Change even an inconsequential detail at any point along the way and you wouldn’t even exist.”

              Yes!

              In other words, you assume and accept that there are *reasons* – typically causal reasons – why I ended up as I am. To talk of how changing any factor in the past would change what I am is ASSUMING this very mode of thinking.

              And that is simply the mode of thinking – that we accept that contingent things have explanations – that the cosmological arguments ask us to accept.

              Again: it’s one thing if you want to challenge this assumption insofar as it’s applied to the *cause of the entire universe.* I think that can be a fruitful challenge to the cosmological arguments. I’ve used a similar line of reasoning to yours to challenge various assumptions in the cosmological arguments. Because theists are making real ontological claims from their premise, vs a discussion of what is conceptually pragmatic (the latter is what I’m appealing to). But you are doing something else, denying even the general legitimacy of the principle itself – the one that we use to make sense of things *within* the universe. And you want to even deny the legitimacy of the way we normally appeal to causes and reasons for contingent things. And that is deeply problematic. You turn your whole position into quicksand.

              But I sense we will now be spinning around the drain on this, I’ll leave it there.

              Cheers,

              • Posted October 6, 2015 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

                Of course. But as I keep pointing out: since the normal demands for explanations/causes – that type that drive us all, including science – don’t rely on wide claims of total isolation in the first place, your bringing this up will continue to be a moot point.

                No; it is the whole point.

                It’s a bait-and-switch on the part of the theologians and the philosophers.

                “See this map? Very useful, right? And it accurately represents the Earth, as demonstrated by the fact that you just successfully used it to find your way to the drugstore and back. And it’s flat. Therefore, the Earth is flat.”

                You’re offering up everyday notions of causality, notions which are notoriously as sloppy and incomplete as a street map, and concluding that the same notions apply to cosmogenesis.

                If we’re going to discuss cosmogenesis, we can no more use the everyday language of causality than NASA can use a street map to plan an ISS resupply mission.

                You asked for a real-world example of something contingent and it’s cause. Someone bleeding out their orifices, the cause being identified as ebola, are normally accepted, coherent examples. If they aren’t, again, science itself isn’t coherent. Nor is much of your own behaviour.

                On the contrary!

                We just focus our attention selectively. In the narrow context of a doctor treating a patient, the doctor will want to know that the patient has Ebola and that the patient needs liquid replacement therapy above all else and the most stringent quarantine procedures must be followed to prevent spread. But in the context of an epidemiologist, that’s irrelevant and the patient’s travel history is what matters. The immunologist is going to be concerned with the mechanisms by which the bacteria defeats the immune system; the pharmacist is going to try to figure out which drugs selectively kill it and / or which ones inhibit expression of the symptoms; the social worker is going to focus on the burial practices that contributed to infection rates; and on and on and on.

                Just as, when you’re in Boston, you pull out a Boston street map but it doesn’t even occur to you to look at a London street map.

                Nor does it occur to you to conclude that, because the map is flat, so, too, must been the Earth.

                But can you not understand my frustration with you banging away on the map on the table insisting that it’s as flat as the Earth, and why can’t I see what’s before my very eyes?

                Exactly! You are speaking the language of “contingency” which is the conceptual scheme the Kalam argument presumes! See, you can’t help it.

                Er…I was using that language to provide you with the parallel to how we know that there is no quotient of zero. All those examples are equally valid “causes” for the single event — which tells us that none of them are valid. There is no “cause,” in the sense used here.

                It’s all relative!

                Is the water boiling because you want a cup of tea, or because the stove has heated it to 100°C? Relative to your desires, the first; relative to grade-school physics, the second. But neither is the one true transcendent cause for the water to boil; the water is boiling, and there isn’t any cause for it to boil — again, unless and until you supply some sort of a context relative to which the question can have any meaning.

                b&

              • dguller
                Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:09 am | Permalink

                Perhaps it might help to refocus the matter.

                The cosmological argument, at least insofar as Feser defends it, involves per se causality and not per accidens causality. The former involves the kind of causality that is operative when a stick pushes a ball, for example, such as the stick has no causal power itself and any change in its motion is utterly dependent upon the stick that is pushing it. The latter involves the kind of causality that is operative when a father begets a son. The son has his own causal power independent of the father such that the father could die and the son still move. On the other hand, if the stick stops pushing the ball, then the ball will stop its motion altogether.

                Furthermore, I don’t see why the cosmological argument requires a SINGLE efficient cause to account for all motion or change in a substance. So, perhaps Ben is right that there are a number of efficient causes that might be involved. Since Aristotle and Aquinas accepted the reality of a causal framework involving MULTIPLE causal factors (i.e. formal, material, final and efficient), I don’t see how that would be much of a stretch. But certainly any change or motion requires AT LEAST one efficient cause.

                Finally, with regards to Newton’s physics falsifying the cosmological argument, I don’t think that’s the case. Certainly, if the ONLY kind of motion was inertial, then the argument would be potentially undermined, but since there is also ACCELERATED motion, the argument could be rehashed to focus upon that kind of motion, which would require an explanation. In other words, if you take a single example of accelerated motion that involves per se causality, then the argument would reasonably conclude with an unmoved mover to avoid the absurdity of an infinite regress of per se causes.

                I hope that helps.

              • Posted October 7, 2015 at 10:33 am | Permalink

                […] then the argument would reasonably conclude with an unmoved mover to avoid the absurdity of an infinite regress of per se causes.

                Oh, ye gods, no NO NO NO!

                Just because Aristotle was terrified of infinities doesn’t mean we should be. Especially in this day and age!

                And the “unmoved mover” as the “solution” to infinite regress is special pleading of the most blatant kind.

                If you’re really going to claim that infinite regress is intolerable, then you don’t get to manufacture a midpoint in the infinite regress and declare it to be the endpoint. Rather, you’ve got to take it as proof that one of your premises is invalid. Surprise, surprise, that actually is the case: we now know full well that things really do happen without any cause, so you can’t use something as evidence of a cause of said something — and, without that premise, the whole rest of the argument doesn’t even get off the ground.

                But, more to the point…many modern proposed cosmologies are infinite in the past. If the arrow of time doesn’t stop in the future, why should it stop in the past? Even if everything does have a cause, there’s again no need to somehow step in there and break the chain.

                b&

              • dguller
                Posted October 7, 2015 at 11:10 am | Permalink

                Ben:

                Just because Aristotle was terrified of infinities doesn’t mean we should be. Especially in this day and age!

                And just because some infinities have been tamed, that any and all infinite regresses should be ignored as insignificant. Certainly, a per se causal series cannot be infinite. After all, each member of the series lacks intrinsic causality, and thus any motion in any member can only be accounted for by another “earlier” member of the series. If this series continues indefinitely, then no member of the series can move at all. It would be like finding a room of mirrors reflecting light, and told that there is no source of the light. If your atheism requires you to embrace this absurdity, then that is certainly your business, but I don’t see how your position is more rational than someone who concludes that there must be a source of the reflected light, even if that source may have properties that they may not entirely like.

                And the “unmoved mover” as the “solution” to infinite regress is special pleading of the most blatant kind.

                It is not. It is the conclusion of an argument, and not an ad hoc addition. If simply adding moved mover to the chain of per se causation will simply extend the regress infinitely, which is absurd, then the only solution is to add an un-moved mover at the origin of the per se causal series. In other words, if you need a further mover to account for the causal chain, and a moved mover leads to an absurdity, then an unmoved mover is the solution. This is not special pleading at all.

                If you’re really going to claim that infinite regress is intolerable, then you don’t get to manufacture a midpoint in the infinite regress and declare it to be the endpoint.

                As I pointed out above, it is not an arbitrary midpoint, but the conclusion of an argument.

                Rather, you’ve got to take it as proof that one of your premises is invalid. Surprise, surprise, that actually is the case: we now know full well that things really do happen without any cause, so you can’t use something as evidence of a cause of said something — and, without that premise, the whole rest of the argument doesn’t even get off the ground.

                What change happens without any cause? Perhaps you want to point to radioactive decay or the existence of virtual particles in a quantum vacuum? Are these phenomena unpredictable? Sure. But unpredictable is not the same as uncaused. Offhand, I can point to one possible cause: the nature of the radioactive atom, or the nature of the quantum vacuum itself. That would be considered the formal cause, according to the Aristotelian causal framework. Furthermore, just because the quantum mathematical equations make no mention of an efficient cause does not mean that there is no such efficient cause. After all, mathematical models are not the reality, much like a map is not the terrain. Mathematical models are quantitative abstractions from material reality that serve to predict the behavior of material phenomena.

                But, more to the point…many modern proposed cosmologies are infinite in the past.

                That would be fine, if the infinite series in question were per accidens. It would be an absurdity if it were per se. So, I suppose it depends.

                If the arrow of time doesn’t stop in the future, why should it stop in the past?

                Because the future doesn’t cause the present, either in a per se or per accidens causal series. On the other hand, the past can cause the present (and future) in a per accidens series. However, even the past cannot cause the present in a per se series. Only another present cause can do that.

              • Posted October 7, 2015 at 11:33 am | Permalink

                After all, each member of the series lacks intrinsic causality

                No; that’s just pre-Newtonian primitive unscientific superstition. The premise is that there’s some sort of vitalism-like something-or-other that does the actual doing, and that “mere stuff” can’t possibly “just do.” You might as well propose the demonic possession theory of disease and be done with it.

                If simply adding moved mover to the chain of per se causation will simply extend the regress infinitely, which is absurd, then the only solution is to add an un-moved mover at the origin of the per se causal series.

                See? Newton did away with the whole Aristotelian nonsense of “Things stop moving unless you keep pushing on them.” How on Earth am I supposed to counter your premise, which is stuck in that mode of thought? Do I need to point out that the planets move in elliptical orbits without the need of the hand of some god to keep pushing them?

                Worse, we again know from Newton that, even if we tried to fit the idea of an unmoved mover into modern understanding…the unmoved mover wouldn’t be able to actually move anything. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, remember?

                Indeed, what you propose is exactly what a perpetual motion machine is — the very archetype of hucksterish flim-flammery which we all most justifiably reject with extreme prejudice.

                What change happens without any cause?

                Hadn’t you heard? Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and Einstein’s observation that it’s all relative, anyway?

                That would be fine, if the infinite series in question were per accidens. It would be an absurdity if it were per se.

                I’m sure you think you’re making a meaningful distinction there, but, in the real world, it’s no different from some UFO nut getting all hot and bothered over whether the aliens were small and big-eyed or tall and bug-eyed.

                b&

            • Diane G.
              Posted October 7, 2015 at 5:49 am | Permalink

              @ Anders/forsyth

              Thanks for your patience. I’m sorry, I just don’t get Philosophy-speak. Seems like in this case you have to first assume that everything can be divided into two classes–contingent & not-contingent. On what basis should we buy that assumption? Can examples of each class be produced? Are the lines never blurred?

              I’ve seen formal logic used to “prove” impossible things. I’ve heard ridiculous premises entertained simply because questions can be posed by putting words together.

              OTOH, I can see that the atheist perspective is probably well-served by those with the taste & patience for these sorts of semantic exercises taking on the proponents of such arguments; so more power to you.

              Meanwhile, I’ll continue to enjoy jblilie’s humor. Call me unsophisticated. (No offense, jblilie! 😉 )

    • Vaal
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      jblilie,

      You have not described the cosmological argument (either Kalam version or the argument from Contingency defended by Edward Feser). You’ve just got it flat wrong, so it’s total strawman.

      If people would just put a little bit more effort into looking at an argument before repeating other atheists memes on the subject, we wouldn’t be giving theists ammunition for accusing us of being ignorant.

      Come on, can we up our game here?

  40. Roger
    Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
    2. Ergo that cause is God.
    3. Ergo God is perfect.
    4, Ergo Jesus on a perfect pogo stick.

    • Roger
      Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      Oopps…

      1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
      2. Ergo that cause is God.

      3. Ergo God is Real™

      Etc…

      • Roger
        Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

        I would post that on Edward’s page but he’ll just yell at me lol. That’s what he does best apparently.

        • Vaal
          Posted October 5, 2015 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

          Roger,

          Not really. Much like on this site, if a comment is presented seriously and thoughtfully, he will often reply in kind.

          • Roger
            Posted October 5, 2015 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

            I still don’t understand why it has to be a “being” with intelligence. Since there is no reason to assume it has to be a being, other than “mover” is a verb just begging for a being behind it doing some moving, which is just a semantics game, then it seems obvious to me that the whole thing is hooey. Maybe you could explain why it isn’t so obvious that it’s unsound? 😀 Serious question.

            • Vaal
              Posted October 6, 2015 at 1:47 am | Permalink

              Roger,

              “I still don’t understand why it has to be a “being” with intelligence.”</i.

              Aquinas has a few different takes on that and it's been a while since I delved into them. But the more well known is his Teleological Argument in his Five Ways arguments for God. (The Teleological Argument is only one of the five main arguments he gives for God in that work).

              And frankly, yeah, it's pretty bad in the predictable ways. Here is the beginning of his Teleological Argument (Argument from Design):

              “The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack knowledge, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that they achieve their end, not fortuitously, but designedly. Now whatever lacks knowledge cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is directed by the archer. Therefore, some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.”

              You can see as formulated there that it seems immediately question-begging.
              He can’t start by acknowledging that non-intelligent things act in X manner and then assert “but X is a characteristic of intelligent things.” He just acknowledged it seems a characteristics of NON-INTELLIGENT things as well! It reduces to the same problem as Paley’s Watch. If Paley is going to first distinguish a watch as designed in contrast to his field, then he can’t turn around and say the field looks designed as well – he has lost all context for the claim. Same when Aquinas. If EVERYTHING, including all unintelligent things act toward ends, then it’s absurd to then hold that we only see this in the case of intelligent things. It’s seemingly self-refuting.

              (Thomists will go into more detail, naturally denying this, but I don’t think they really dig themselves out and get anywhere).

              • Vaal
                Posted October 6, 2015 at 1:48 am | Permalink

                whoops, formatting fail. First sentence is a quote from Roger, the rest of italics is me, the bold is Aquinas.

            • Roger
              Posted October 6, 2015 at 8:11 am | Permalink

              Alright thanks a lot Vaal. It’s good to see that they have their thinking caps on and they try and explain why it’s supposed to be an intelligent being. I suppose I could have looked it all up myself, and Edward would have yelled at me for not reading up on it first haha. 😀

          • Posted October 6, 2015 at 12:04 am | Permalink

            Funny. I presented him with a serious and thoughtful comment, and his reply was curt and dismissive — and I was unable to comment further.

            The man very much fails to impress, on pretty much any level.

            b&

            • Roger
              Posted October 6, 2015 at 12:13 am | Permalink

              Yeah I saw that. That’s what I was talkin about ha ha. He does that a lot.

            • Vaal
              Posted October 6, 2015 at 1:21 am | Permalink

              Ben,

              I saw your posts on Feser’s comments section.
              Though you sought to make a substantial point…

              I think you just have to consider what Jerry’s reaction would likely be to a critical post of the same tone and character as yours was to Feser.

              I’d bet it wouldn’t go over very well with the proprietor here either 😉

            • Anders
              Posted October 6, 2015 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

              If you consider what you wrote to be serious and thoughtful, then you’ve even more work to do than I thought.

              You *opened* with an admission that you didn’t even read all of Feser’s post. Are you mad? And then you attempted to justify that laziness by implying that you already knew that what Feser had written was wrong.

              You’re either an idiot, or a high-schooler. Hmm, maybe you’re both.

              • Posted October 6, 2015 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

                I’ve addressed this repeatedly, including in the very reply to Feser you refer to.

                Somebody claims to have a perpetual motion machine, or that the Earth is flat, or that Evolution is impossible, I don’t need to waste my time slogging through huge amounts of tedium to rebut every last bit point by point. There’s no point. What that person needs isn’t validation that they’re a Serious Thinker, but remedial education in physics, astronomy, or biology.

                Such is the case with Feser. It doesn’t matter what variation on the Aristotelian Prime Mover he’s proposing; Metaphysics is bullshit that Newton rendered obsolete.

                Now, I shall again challenge you. You’re making clear that you think Feser’s arguments have merit and do not deserve to be dismissed out of hand.

                So, as I’ve repeatedly done so, I request — nay, urge — you to present us with supportive evidence. All the Prime Mover arguments boil down to something-or-other (of whatever properties) requires some certain class of a different something-or-other. Pick one of each and demonstrate the requirement.

                …not that you will, of course; anybody who could do so would have overturned Newton and all physics since him…just as would somebody who could demonstrate a perpetual motion machine, show that the Earth is flat, or invalidate common ancestry.

                b&

  41. Anders
    Posted October 6, 2015 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    @Ben, starting afresh here — there was no “Reply” link at the end of your comment. Maybe we’ve hit a nesting limit.

    You asked me for evidence, but for what? Recall what this thread is about. @jblilie stated that the following was the first premiss to the Cosmological Argument:

    > 1. Everything has a cause

    My response (and Vaal’s) was to point out that jblilie was in error. There is no form of the CA which has that as its first premiss. By comparison, here is an *actual* example of a CA first premiss:

    1. Everything contingent has a cause

    If you are asking me for evidence *that the above is a premiss within the CA*, then I’d point you to numerous sources published over the last 750 years or so, including, for example, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/

    If, on the other hand, you again are conflating one thing with another and are asking me for evidence *to support* that first premiss, I have to ask you why on earth you are asking *me* for that. I am not *asserting* that premiss. I am asserting that:

    The statement “Everything contingent has a cause” is the first premiss of one form of the Cosmological Argument, and, contrary to jblilie, the statement “Everything has a cause” is not.

    • Posted October 6, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      I’m trying to cut to the chase.

      You’re asserting that the something-or-other argument is coherent. And you asserted that an essential part of that argument is, “Every contingent thing has a cause.”

      So, please give an example of a “contingent thing” and identify its “cause.”

      I’ll bet you a cup of coffee or a mug of beer or other suitable beverage that you will be unable to do so, and I will cite your failure as evidence that the very notion is itself incoherent.

      Please note: the claim is that there is A cause for every contingent thing. When you identify the cause for whatever contingent thing you think best exemplifies the claim, do please be sure that there is no other cause, okay?

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Anders
        Posted October 6, 2015 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        Good grief.

        I am *not* “asserting asserting that the something-or-other argument is coherent”.

        I *am* asserting that jblilie’s attempted formulation of the Cosmological Argument — specifically the first premiss — was incorrect.

        Off you go you small boy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FWovgOzmFU&feature=youtu.be&t=20s

        • Posted October 6, 2015 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

          So, let me get this straight.

          You don’t think that the Cosmological Argument is coherent, but you’re upset that nobody can formulate it correctly?

          Do you even know what, “coherent,” means, let alone the obvious consequence of incoherence?

          Or, if you do think that the Cosmological Argument is coherent, why won’t you provide such simple evidence in support of such a remarkable claim, as I asked? Wouldn’t that be a far better way to demonstrate what it actually is than whining that nobody understands it the way you do?

          b&

          • Anders
            Posted October 6, 2015 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

            > You don’t think that the Cosmological
            > Argument is coherent…

            What the feck are you talking about dude? Are you sure you’re even addressing the right person?

            I AM NEITHER DEFENDING NOR ATTACKING THE CA.
            Read it again.
            Once more.
            Now piss off and go annoy someone else until you start to PAY ATTENTION.

            • Posted October 6, 2015 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

              I AM NEITHER DEFENDING NOR ATTACKING THE CA.

              Then you’re trolling. And our host doesn’t tend to care all that much for such behavior.

              b&

  42. dguller
    Posted October 7, 2015 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Ben:

    No; that’s just pre-Newtonian primitive unscientific superstition. The premise is that there’s some sort of vitalism-like something-or-other that does the actual doing, and that “mere stuff” can’t possibly “just do.” You might as well propose the demonic possession theory of disease and be done with it.

    There is no need for vitalism or demons. (Any chance you can avoid the contemptuous histrionics, by the way?) Just stick to the example of the stick pushing the ball. The ball is in motion. The ball itself cannot move on its own, but requires an external force to move it. (If you like, when I say “motion”, you can presume “accelerated motion”.) That is an example of a per se causal series. Without the stick pushing the ball, the ball would not move. No vitalism or demons necessary here.

    See? Newton did away with the whole Aristotelian nonsense of “Things stop moving unless you keep pushing on them.”

    Funny, I didn’t mention “pushing” at all. I just talked about things moving other things, which can happen by pushing, by pulling, by electromagnetic attraction or repulsion, by gravitational attraction, and so on. If you’re going to mock my comments, then at least mock what I write!

    Worse, we again know from Newton that, even if we tried to fit the idea of an unmoved mover into modern understanding…the unmoved mover wouldn’t be able to actually move anything. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, remember?
    Indeed, what you propose is exactly what a perpetual motion machine is — the very archetype of hucksterish flim-flammery which we all most justifiably reject with extreme prejudice.

    Sure, that would apply to interactions of entities with mass. But immaterial entities that lack mass and energy would not be beholden to Newton’s third law, or any of his laws for that matter. Perhaps you will object that immaterial entities are utter bullshit and nonsense and superstitious decrepitude and boogah-boogah-boogah! I think that immaterial entities are far more coherent than an infinite series of reflected light without a source for the light at all. That seems much more like “hucksterish flim-flammery” than entities that exist independently of the laws and reality of space-time. But hey, that’s just me.

    Hadn’t you heard? Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and Einstein’s observation that it’s all relative, anyway?

    I hadn’t heard that the Uncertainty Principle and Relativity encompass the totality of reality such that anything not captured within their mathematical equations simply cannot possibly exist. Where are you in those equations, I wonder? If I cannot derive you from them, then am I talking to a figment of my imagination? But then again, on that criteria, I don’t exist either, so no biggie then.

    I’m sure you think you’re making a meaningful distinction there, but, in the real world, it’s no different from some UFO nut getting all hot and bothered over whether the aliens were small and big-eyed or tall and bug-eyed.

    You can’t see the difference between the kind of motion can proceed without its originating cause and the kind of motion that requires the ongoing activity of its originating cause? The distinction may not be true, but it is certainly comprehensible and meaningful. If you can’t even understand what the words I just wrote mean, then there’s no point in continuing with this conversation. In that case, I wish you well, and try to avoid eating your glue.

    • Posted October 7, 2015 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

      Without the stick pushing the ball, the ball would not move. No vitalism or demons necessary here.

      See? Newton did away with the whole Aristotelian nonsense of “Things stop moving unless you keep pushing on them.”

      Funny, I didn’t mention “pushing” at all.

      Emphasis added.

      But immaterial entities that lack mass and energy would not be beholden to Newton’s third law, or any of his laws for that matter.

      Nor are they capable of imparting momentum to anything in the first place. Force equals mass times energy. No mass or energy, no force. No force, no acceleration.

      I think that immaterial entities are far more coherent than an infinite series of reflected light without a source for the light at all.

      No physicist would recognize that analogy as having even the slightest bearing on anything in modern physics.

      I hadn’t heard that the Uncertainty Principle and Relativity encompass the totality of reality such that anything not captured within their mathematical equations simply cannot possibly exist.

      All of everything?

      No.

      But they do place very strict limits on macro-scale phenomenon, and quite a ways beyond macro scale. Whatever lies beyond the limits of modern physics “reduces” to modern physics at familiar scales, and we know with overwhelming confidence that nothing beyond what we know can, even in principle, somehow reach into the human world.

      If you don’t believe me, get the T-shirt.

      You can’t see the difference between the kind of motion can proceed without its originating cause and the kind of motion that requires the ongoing activity of its originating cause?

      No. Physics doesn’t, either. There’s just motion. Any sort of “motion-plus” is a perpetual motion machine and the absolute worst kind of crank huckster pseudoscience bullshit.

      b&

      • dguller
        Posted October 8, 2015 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        Ben:

        Emphasis added.

        Thanks for the correction.

        Nor are they capable of imparting momentum to anything in the first place. Force equals mass times energy. No mass or energy, no force. No force, no acceleration.

        Again, just because a mathematical model does not mention X does not necessarily mean that X does not exist. So, just because Newtonian mechanics does not refer to immaterial forces does not necessarily mean that immaterial forces do not exist. In fact, Newton himself acknowledged the existence of a gravitational force that he could not explain within his own mechanical framework.

        Similarly, just because a mathematical model does not mention a particular cause for certain phenomena that there is no cause at all. That would be to forget that a mathematical model is a simplified abstraction of material reality. Material reality is far richer than the abstraction, which necessarily removes or eliminates all non-quantitative elements in order to attain the purity of a mathematical equation. But, again, it does not follow that what was removed or eliminated from making an appearance in the equation simply does not exist.

        No physicist would recognize that analogy as having even the slightest bearing on anything in modern physics.

        Since the totality of reality is not exhausted by modern physics, I’m not too bothered by their lack of recognition. Regardless, the fact remains that you claim that an infinite per se causal series is no biggie, which means that you also endorse the possibility of an infinite series of reflected light can exist without a source of the light. To me, that is an utter absurdity that eclipses any implausibility of immaterial entities.

        But they do place very strict limits on macro-scale phenomenon, and quite a ways beyond macro scale.

        But your position depends upon the truth claim that if a mathematical model, such as Heisenberg’s uncertain principle or Einstein’s theory of relativity do not contain mathematical terms for the causes of the phenomena that they describe, then there is no such cause at all in reality. So, whatever limits the mathematical model of physics place on material reality, they do not demand that anything not captured in their equations simply does not exist in reality. And that is why the absence of X from a mathematical model does not necessarily mean that X does not exist. An argument independent of the mathematical model is required to demonstrate that. You haven’t made that argument … yet.

        No. Physics doesn’t, either. There’s just motion. Any sort of “motion-plus” is a perpetual motion machine and the absolute worst kind of crank huckster pseudoscience bullshit.

        So, physics cannot acknowledge that a son can continue to act in the absence of his father, but a ball cannot continue to move in the absence of the stick that pushes it? Surely, even almighty physics makes distinctions between different kinds of motion?

        • Posted October 8, 2015 at 10:33 am | Permalink

          Again, just because a mathematical model does not mention X does not necessarily mean that X does not exist.

          This misunderstanding underlies all your critiques — that, somehow, physics is nothing more than a mathematical model.

          Yes, the mathematical model is a vital part of modern physics.

          But the model is nothing more than our most accurate and precise language for describing our observations of reality.

          Newton expressed it as F=MA, but that’s just a shorthand way of stating that nobody has ever observed a phenomenon at macro scales where the force on a massive object has been anything other than the product of its mass times the acceleration. Just as, for example, nobody has ever observed the Sun to rise in the West or set in the East.

          Now, can you propose all sorts of insane conspiracy theories that could explain how these observations could be so reliable yet utterly worng? Of course. But that just makes you an insane conspiracy theorist.

          If you’re comfortable expressing absolute certainty that the Sun will rise in the East and set in the West tomorrow, then you should have equal confidence in expressing comparable certainty that the Standard Model is an accurate description of physics at all but the most extreme scales. And, just as Venus’s retrograde rotation doesn’t change the fact that, here on Earth, the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West, anything at scales beyond those covered by the Standard Model is irrelevant to that within the Standard Model’s remit.

          So…all your objections that physics is a mere mathematical model? I dismiss them without further consideration with the same contempt you’d dismiss me if I suggested that there’s nothing stopping the Sun from rising in the West tomorrow.

          Cheers,

          b&

  43. dguller
    Posted October 8, 2015 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Ben:

    This misunderstanding underlies all your critiques — that, somehow, physics is nothing more than a mathematical model.
    Yes, the mathematical model is a vital part of modern physics.

    Agreed.

    But the model is nothing more than our most accurate and precise language for describing our observations of reality.
    Newton expressed it as F=MA, but that’s just a shorthand way of stating that nobody has ever observed a phenomenon at macro scales where the force on a massive object has been anything other than the product of its mass times the acceleration. Just as, for example, nobody has ever observed the Sun to rise in the West or set in the East.

    First, the mathematical model is a quantitative abstraction from material reality. It necessarily excludes anything and everything that is non-quantifiable. My simple and obvious point is that the excluded non-quantifiable aspects of material reality still exist, even though they do not show up in the mathematical model itself. Therefore, one cannot simply on the basis of a mathematical model, conclude that if X does not appear in the mathematical model, then X does not exist. If you disagree with this principle, then you must reject all non-quantifiable aspects of reality as non-existent, which is absurd, because the very consciousness with which you disagree with the principle itself could not exist if the principle was false.

    Second, you seem to imply that our model begins with an observation, and then just describes the observation in the language of mathematics. But the problem with this, as I mentioned above, is that the language of mathematics only applies to the quantifiable aspects of the observation. It necessarily excludes the non-quantifiable aspects of the observation. In fact, it goes beyond this, because any linguistic description of an observation will fail to capture many aspects of the observation by virtue of the limitations of language itself. So, again, the model is limited by virtue of its inherently exclusionary quality, and thus cannot be taken to be the sum total of reality itself, which it would have to be for your argument to be sound.

    Third, what about those aspects of the model that are non-observable? For example, no-one has ever observed the quantum vacuum in which virtual particles come in and out of existence. So, the part of the model that symbolizes this “phenomena” cannot be “our most accurate and precise language for describing our observations of reality”, because there is no observation of that aspect of reality at all. It is an extension beyond what is observable by us that may exist in reality or may be an artifact of the mathematical symbolism itself. The important point to note is that the model itself cannot answer this question, and we must go beyond the model to know the truth, if we ever can.

    Now, can you propose all sorts of insane conspiracy theories that could explain how these observations could be so reliable yet utterly worng? Of course. But that just makes you an insane conspiracy theorist.

    I never said the observations were wrong. The observations are correct. Furthermore, the model is correct insofar as it limits itself to what it represents in its symbolism. However, it is utterly silent about anything that is not represented in its symbolism, and thus cannot be used to determine whether what is beyond itself is true or false. So, to simply point to a group of mathematical equations, and conclude that because X is not present in them, then X cannot exist, is just plain wrong. X might not exist, but the mathematical equations themselves cannot answer that question. You have to look outside of the equations to make the case for X’s existence or non-existence. Sure, when discussing phenomena that are covered by the equations, one must be respectful of the limitations that the equations delimit those phenomena. But when discussing phenomena that are not covered by the equations, it is a truism that one must go beyond the equations to get at the truth.

    • Posted October 8, 2015 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      My simple and obvious point is that the excluded non-quantifiable aspects of material reality still exist, even though they do not show up in the mathematical model itself.

      No, they don’t. If they did, we would have found evidence for them by now. Your claim that we’re missing something is, on the one hand, like claiming that maybe there actually is an angry T-Rex resurrected from the Cretaceous in the kitchen with me right now. Worse, on the other hand, it’s also equivalent to a claim for a perpetual motion machine, and for the violation of all sorts of other conservation laws — the principles of operation of the Cosmos we have the highest confidence in.

      Study this page until you grok it:

      http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/

      the very consciousness with which you disagree with the principle itself could not exist if the principle was false.

      If Sastra reads this, perhaps she’ll chime in; explaining that “mind-stuff” is not fundamental is her specialty. But, until then, we know with the same certainty as we do that the Sun will rise in the East that the mind is simply the workings of the brain. We’ve had strong reason to suspect this since the invention of beer; it became a practical certainty when that railroad iron shot through Phinneas Gage’s head; and it’s been more than amply verified in innumerable ways since then. Sure, we don’t know every last detail — or even nearly as much as we’d like to know. But we don’t need to know everything to know the general outline — any more than we need to know how many fish are swimming in a particular creek in Montana to know that that creek itself empties into the Missouri.

      …and also from physics. If cognition is anything other than the physical workings of the brain, then every time you intentionally move your finger, you’re violating conservation. Computer science, too…Church-Turing says that there exists a Turing machine equivalent to your mind. And on and on and on and on.

      Sure, it seems as though your mind is magical. But so what? It also seems as though the background of your computer is white when, in reality, it’s a blend of three very narrow slices of the rainbow. And all the other colors you see on your computer, even when you’re looking at a photo of a rainbow, are, again, only blends of those same three very narrow slices of the rainbow.

      Intuition is a useful shortcut, but it falls down very fast and very hard when you step outside of a very narrow range of scenarios in which it gets the right answers.

      For example, no-one has ever observed the quantum vacuum in which virtual particles come in and out of existence.

      Except we have. See the Casimir effect for how you can make your very own observations of the quantum vacuum. Well…sorta. You’d need some rather expensive and delicate equipment to measure it to today’s standards, but you can get results consistent with it using 1950s technology.

      However, it is utterly silent about anything that is not represented in its symbolism

      Though true, it’s irrelevant. For its symbolism represents everything you’ve ever personally experienced, and much more — all the way from Quantum Mechanics to Relativistic Mechanics, from the Inflationary Epoch a baker’s dozen billion years ago to at least as long into the future. Everything inside that behaves according to the Standard Model (with the same confidence as that the Sun will rise in the East), and nothing outside of it can alter that which is inside (with similar confidence).

      Cheers,

      b&

  44. Posted October 8, 2015 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    If you disagree with this principle, then you must reject all non-quantifiable aspects of reality as non-existent, which is absurd, because the very consciousness with which you disagree with the principle itself could not exist if the principle was false.

    Now you’ve stepped out of the realm of philosophy and landed with both feet firmly in the world of empirical claims. What evidence do you have that consciousness is not a product of everything we already know about Physics? Could other things exist? Yes, as Sean Carroll states in the link Ben provided, they could exist but not in a way that they interact with any of the particles that give a full account of our observations. As for “immaterial” things existing, how does this immaterial consciousness interact with our material brains? You are simultaneously making an argument from ignorance as well as a classic god-of-the-gaps claim. We can’t fully explain consciousness yet; ergo, it must be immaterial because I don’t see any other way. Yet there is not even a proposed mechanism for how this immaterial stuff would work much less what it even is.

  45. dguller
    Posted October 8, 2015 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Ben:

    No, they don’t. If they did, we would have found evidence for them by now.

    Then show me where qualia show up anywhere in any mathematical equation of physics. If not, then there is something that is real but absent from those equations, which means that the absence of X from the equations is not evidence for X’s non-existence.

    Sure, we don’t know every last detail — or even nearly as much as we’d like to know. But we don’t need to know everything to know the general outline

    This isn’t a small detail. It’s a gaping hole in the materialist theory of mind. It is impossible to derive subjectivity from objective phenomena. Objective phenomena, by definition, are stripped of subjectivity, and it is impossible to derive qualitative aspects of X solely from the quantitative aspects of X. That is why knowing everything there is to know about how electromagnetic radiation in the visible spectrum behaves won’t tell you the least thing about how the color red appears to a conscious mind. This is not some tiny matter that can be swept under the rug until some brilliant future scientist discovers the key. It is the fundamental and core issue in consciousness studies.

    If cognition is anything other than the physical workings of the brain, then every time you intentionally move your finger, you’re violating conservation.

    I wonder how a set of neuronal firing can be about anything at all. For example, how can a group of firing neurons be about a cat? That is the problem of intentionality in a nutshell. Again, this is not a small detail to be filled in later on, but rather a matter of fundamental importance.

    Though true, it’s irrelevant. For its symbolism represents everything you’ve ever personally experienced, and much more — all the way from Quantum Mechanics to Relativistic Mechanics, from the Inflationary Epoch a baker’s dozen billion years ago to at least as long into the future. Everything inside that behaves according to the Standard Model (with the same confidence as that the Sun will rise in the East), and nothing outside of it can alter that which is inside (with similar confidence).

    It does not represent everything I’ve ever experienced. In fact, there are many experiences that it couldn’t possibly represent.

    And just to recap where we are at in this discussion.

    You claimed that modern physics disproved the principle that all change requires an agent to cause the change. Your evidence for this position is that (a) quantum theory describes phenomena that occur without any causal agent within the mathematical formalism, and (b) Newton’s principle of inertia describes a kind of motion in the absence of a mover.

    The problem with (a) is that just because X does not appear in the mathematical equations of quantum theory does not mean that X does not exist in reality. So, just because the quantum mechanical equations of radioactivity, for example, do not include a cause of the radioactivity does not mean that there is no cause for the radioactivity. Granted, we have no empirical evidence of any external cause of the radioactivity, and no cause shows up in the mathematical equations, but it just does not follow from this that there is no such cause. If it did, then there is simply no point in looking for a deeper explanation at all, because any deeper explanation would have to be the cause of the radioactivity itself. In fact, science itself is based upon the presupposition that there must be such a cause, because otherwise there is simply no account for why the radioactivity itself is so orderly and susceptible to mathematical analysis to begin with.

    The problem with (b) is that inertial motion is itself an abstraction that is never observed, because the very presence of an observer would affect the inertial motion of the object in question. In a way, it is like the center of gravity, which is a useful abstraction to calculate the motion of objects, but does not actually exist in reality. Same deal with “the average person”. That is why it is never a good idea to get carried away by one’s formalism. Not every constant or variable in a mathematical equation has an ontological correlate, after all, even if the equation itself is incredibly useful.

    The bottom line is that you might be right in your claims, but the truth of the matter cannot, in principle, be discovered in the mathematical models themselves. They do not refute the principle. The principle is operative everywhere we look in reality, and certainly seems to be inoperative in the examples that you raised. But just because something seems to be so does not mean that it actually is so. You would need an additional argument, independent of the mathematical models themselves, to make that claim. So far, you just keep pointing to the models as mega-super-duper-awesomeness, which is great, but is no argument against the principle that all change requires an agent of change.

    • Posted October 8, 2015 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      Then show me where qualia show up anywhere in any mathematical equation of physics.

      Oh, bother. Really? Qualia?

      <sigh />

      Let’s start simple.

      There’re all sorts of sensory systems that trigger reflexive actions, with no consciousness involved. Agreed? Touch a Venus Flytrap the right way, and the jaws clamp shut. Sunflowers track the Sun.

      And you should be well personally aware of how these sorts of things work. Tap your knee in the right spot and you’ll kick. Shine a light in your eyes and your pupils will contract. You have no control over either — not to cause, not to prevent; in the case of the pupils, you’re not even aware that it’s happening.

      At the level of physics, what happens in your body is remarkably similar to what happens in the plants. The stimulus causes an electrochemical cascade that causes specific fibers to contract.

      When you intentionally kick your leg or make your face squint, the physics is indistinguishable from what happens with the knee or pupil reflex: a series of electrochemical cascades that cause specific fibers to contract. And when you see the ball coming at you or hear somebody make a bad joke, it’s the same up front, as well: the stimulus kicks off a series of electrochemical cascades that wend their way to your brain — with, of course, your brain being the source of the corresponding electrochemical impulses that cause your leg to kick or your facial muscles to squint.

      So, we’re hopefully agreed that the beginning and ending are the same; the only remaining part is the bit in the middle, where there’s a delay…and, specifically, where you’re aware of the delay.

      For many types of stimuli, there’s a range of responses that may be effective. If you see two balls (tigers, whatever) coming at you, which would it be better to kick? We have examples of lots of various levels of sophistication of information processing on incoming systems, from one slightly more sophisticated than the Venus Flytrap (or your pupils’s contraction) all the way up to full-on human cognition. This shouldn’t be something you’d disagree with, either; there’re worms with eyespots that aren’t completely blind, there’re the dung beetles that get fooled by plant seeds that Jerry just wrote about, there’re bees that can communicate directions to pollen sources with each other by dancing, there’re crows smart enough to drop nuts in front of cars in order to crack them, and so on. And all are quite clearly variations on the same theme, and laying on the same continuum. Pick pretty much any example, and you’re guaranteed to find something both a little bit more sophisticated and a little bit less, with not all that much to distinguish amongst the three. But move to one of the outliers, and you’ll be able to move in similar steps, all up and down the chain.

      Still with me?

      A very effective way to evaluate stimuli in order to pick the optimal response is by constructing a virtual reality model of the surroundings and running multiple simulations of possible responses and performing the response with the best outcome predicted by the simulation. We know very intimately that this is true, for it’s how we spend much of our time. Should I marry so-and-so? Should I quit my job? Would I rather have the chocolate or the vanilla, or maybe half-and-half?

      We know that we’re not alone in constructing such virtual reality models; see again those impressively-smart crows, as well as many other examples. We can be very confident that the virtual reality models of these other animals are much less comprehensive and sophisticated than ours, but, though they’re a lot simpler, they’ve still got them or else they’d have no means of doing what they do.

      And, again, we can follow this chain up and down, to the point that we can use brain scans to see rats re-running their mazes as they dream, and so on.

      An individual organism is going to be a rather important element in said organism’s environment. Indeed, it’s the single most important element! So, naturally, all these virtual reality models include the organism in the model.

      Of course, it’s at this point that we finally come to the question of qualia. For, if a virtual reality model is to include itself in the model, it has to include a model of itself in the model. And, if the actual organism experiences a stimulus, the model is going to have to incorporate that stimulus into the model of the model. But the model is also part of the model (is also part of the model…), so the model’s model of the model needs to be in the model, as well as the model’s model’s model’s model of a stimulus.

      So, in other words, not only does light hitting your retina create an electrochemical replica of that scene in your brain, it also creates echoes — the part of your brain that’s responsible for the virtual reality simulation sees itself looking at the projection of the image, and so on.

      Now you should understand qualia, as well as self-awareness.

      There’s one last point to cover. Why should the experience of red be what it should be, as opposed to the experience of blue? Well, the experience is going to be something. As long as your internal virtual reality is a “close enough” approximation of real reality, it doesn’t really matter what the subjective form of the experience takes. Any computational agent with sufficient self-referrential modeling is going to have some sort of pattern of stimuli that corresponds with looking at something that’s red as opposed to something that’s blue…and the one pattern is what, for that individual, it “feels like” to see red; the other, blue. Because, again, whatever that pattern is, the internal virtual reality self is going to copy it, which is how it can identify itself in the first place.

      Now, whether or not you accept this explanation for self-awareness and qualia and the like…it should be clear that these phenomena can be answered without resort to magic at all. In stark contrast, the religious superstitions typically offered in place of rationalism do violent contradiction to the most fundamentally reliable facts we know about everything there is.

      Cheers,

      b&

  46. dguller
    Posted October 8, 2015 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Chris:

    What evidence do you have that consciousness is not a product of everything we already know about Physics?

    Because consciousness involves subjective experience and intentionality, neither of which is reducible to the mathematical equations of physics, in principle, because one cannot deduce the qualitative from the quantitative. If you think that you can, then start with the basic equations of physics, and deduce consciousness. Go for it.

    As for “immaterial” things existing, how does this immaterial consciousness interact with our material brains?

    If by “material”, you mean, “reducible to physics”, then consciousness is certainly immaterial, because it cannot be reduced to physics. However, I do not believe that everything in the material world is reducible to physics, and that much more is going on in the material world than is captured by the equations of physics. After all, there is quality as well as quantity in the material world, and only the latter is represented by physics. Hence, all the pretty equations. So, the real issue is how to broaden our concept of the material to include consciousness, and that will necessarily include qualitative features that cannot be reduced to physics, or chemistry, or neuroscience. What will science look like under this broadened conception? I have no idea, but it will have to occur in order to “solve” the problem of consciousness.

    We can’t fully explain consciousness yet; ergo, it must be immaterial because I don’t see any other way.

    Not at all. The problem is that under the current understanding of “material”, consciousness cannot possibly exist. But, consciousness does exist. Therefore, we must reject our current understanding of “material”. There is more to matter than cells, molecules, atoms, and subatomic phenomena.

    • Posted October 8, 2015 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      The problem is that under the current understanding of “material”, consciousness cannot possibly exist.

      Bollocks!

      Under your own personal very limited understanding of physics, consciousness cannot possibly exist.

      But we already know that computers can possess a consciousness comparable to that of some very dimly conscious animals — I believe somebody’s created an accurate neuron-level simulation of various invertebrates — and that there’s nothing magical about humans that separates us from any other animal. You can have a chat with Koko the Gorilla, if you doubt that she’s conscious and self-aware, though not as bright as most humans her age. And you can compare Koko with chimpanzees, chimpanzees with other apes, other apes with other primates, and so on — all the way down the sophistication ladder to those same invertebrates that we’ve already simulated.

      That right there tells us that physics is more than adequate to underly any explanation of consciousness.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • dguller
        Posted October 9, 2015 at 5:08 am | Permalink

        Ben:

        Of course, it’s at this point that we finally come to the question of qualia. For, if a virtual reality model is to include itself in the model, it has to include a model of itself in the model. And, if the actual organism experiences a stimulus, the model is going to have to incorporate that stimulus into the model of the model. But the model is also part of the model (is also part of the model…), so the model’s model of the model needs to be in the model, as well as the model’s model’s model’s model of a stimulus.

        I missed the part where the existence of a sophisticated and multi-layered virtual reality model in an agent explains the subjective qualitative feeling in an agent. I mean, is the virtual reality model identical to the subjective qualitative experience (i.e. they are one and the same thing), or does the virtual reality model cause the subjective qualitative experience (i.e. they are different)? Furthermore, I don’t see how any of this necessarily involves conscious experience at all. Couldn’t such model-building occur unconsciously? Why does subjective awareness have to enter the process at all?

        I agree that the process that you describe is probably part of the explanation of qualia and consciousness, but again, it is an objective description that uses Underpants Gnomes Logic to yadda-yadda its way to subjective experience. In fact, this is the textbook use of “magic”, as you like to say, to explain a phenomena.

        But we already know that computers can possess a consciousness comparable to that of some very dimly conscious animals — I believe somebody’s created an accurate neuron-level simulation of various invertebrates — and that there’s nothing magical about humans that separates us from any other animal.

        How do you know that a computer simulation of neuronal processes has the exact same effect as actual neuronal processes, I wonder? At least with other sophisticated animals, there are sufficient similarities between them and us that conscious experience is certainly present, but a computer program having a conscious experience? Perhaps there is something particular about the biological organization of the nervous system of higher level mammals that is necessary for the existence of consciousness, something that would not occur in an artificially made computer program?

        • Posted October 9, 2015 at 9:57 am | Permalink

          I missed the part where the existence of a sophisticated and multi-layered virtual reality model in an agent explains the subjective qualitative feeling in an agent.

          There are neural patterns that correspond with external stimuli, such as the focussed image on the retina. There are similar neural patterns that correspond with internal stimuli, such as the internal model of the internal model of the internal model […] of the internal model of the focussed image on the retina.

          Those patterns are going to manifest themselves to the model somehow. There’re all sorts of arbitrary ways they could manifest. But, whatever form the manifestation takes…that’s your qualia. Your perception of what it’s like to perceive something.

          Or, another way of looking at it: your qualia of the color blue isn’t the perception of the color blue, but your perception of what you experience when you perceive the color blue.

          Couldn’t such model-building occur unconsciously? Why does subjective awareness have to enter the process at all?

          As I noted, you yourself are the most important part of your environment, so it only naturally follows that your virtual model of your environment should include you yourself. And it’s that recursive modeled-self-within-the-model-of-the-self that’s…well…your conscious subjective self-awareness.

          After all, what is self-awareness but awareness of the self? And if a self is aware of itself, is it at all surprising that it’s self-aware?

          How do you know that a computer simulation of neuronal processes has the exact same effect as actual neuronal processes, I wonder?

          Because the behavior of the simulated neurons matches the observations of the real neurons.

          Or, in other words, by using the same standard we use for everything else. How do you know that your street map is an accurate (but simplified) representation of your city? Because you can use it to successfully navigate around town. How do we know that Newton’s laws are accurate representations of motion? Because every time we compare the two (at human scales), we get a perfect match. The simulated neurons are no different.

          Perhaps there is something particular about the biological organization of the nervous system of higher level mammals that is necessary for the existence of consciousness, something that would not occur in an artificially made computer program?

          We can (and must!) dismiss that with the same contempt we’d dismiss the notion that maybe there’s something “more” to a ball in trajectory than just Newton’s laws — that, yes, Newton’s laws apply, but there’re also invisible ball faeries who shepherd the ball peacefully way to the catcher’s glove.

          William of Ockham had some insight into the question….

          Cheers,

          b&

          • dguller
            Posted October 9, 2015 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

            Ben:

            Those patterns are going to manifest themselves to the model somehow. There’re all sorts of arbitrary ways they could manifest. But, whatever form the manifestation takes…that’s your qualia.

            But you’ve just made your Underpants Gnome gambit once again.

            First, you haven’t provided any account of how recurrent and reiterative neural feedback loops can produce a virtual reality representation of reality. Part of the problem with such an account is that it isn’t possible for a physical state to be about anything at all. You can certainly say that under certain conditions, a neural network will activate, and ultimately produce a certain behavior, but you cannot infer from those facts what the neural network was about in particular. After all, a physical state (e.g. a mark on a sheet of paper, a splash of colors on a wall, a set of neurons firing) can be about virtually anything, i.e. the possibilities are limitless. Something other than the physical state would have to narrow those possibilities to what the physical state is about.

            Second, even if you managed to overcome the above objection and determine that a certain neural network has produced a virtual reality model of reality, you still haven’t explained how that virtual reality model either is a subjective conscious experience or causes a subjective conscious experience. You keep ignoring the actual feeling of what it is like to experience a conscious experience. That is what a quale is, and your account, primarily because it is limited to objective phenomena, completely misses its mark. So, you can talk all you want about neural representations of the environment, and neural representations of the self in that environment, and neural representations of the neural representations of the self in the environment, or whatever, but none of these includes qualia. In fact, all of them can perfectly well occur completely unconsciously and outside of any awareness whatsoever.

            Or, another way of looking at it: your qualia of the color blue isn’t the perception of the color blue, but your perception of what you experience when you perceive the color blue.

            So, I perceive the color blue, then I have an experience of the color blue, and finally, I perceive the experience of the color blue. That is a wonderful phenomenological description of some essential aspects of the qualia of the color blue. Unfortunately, it presupposes the very qualitative concepts that it purports to explain. In other words, you are simply using qualitative terms to explain qualitative phenomena, which is fine, but does not explain qualitative phenomena (i.e. subjective conscious feelings and sensations) from non-qualitative entities (i.e. objective physical phenomena). That is the challenge.

            As I noted, you yourself are the most important part of your environment, so it only naturally follows that your virtual model of your environment should include you yourself. And it’s that recursive modeled-self-within-the-model-of-the-self that’s…well…your conscious subjective self-awareness.

            Sure, your model should include yourself, but that is not identical to a conscious awareness of self. When I ride my bicycle, I do so largely unconsciously, even though in order to do so, a representation of my self and its location in space and time would have to be a part of the unconscious processing.

            After all, what is self-awareness but awareness of the self? And if a self is aware of itself, is it at all surprising that it’s self-aware?

            But you jumped from a representation of the self, which is precisely what your virtual reality model is, to an awareness of the self, which is what you have yet to explain. The two are different. The former can occur unconsciously, whereas the latter cannot. The best that you can do is to demonstrate the unconscious representations of the self and its relation to its environment, but you have not even come close to showing how unconscious representational modeling can result in the subjective feel of conscious awareness.

            Because the behavior of the simulated neurons matches the observations of the real neurons.

            Or, in other words, by using the same standard we use for everything else. How do you know that your street map is an accurate (but simplified) representation of your city? Because you can use it to successfully navigate around town. How do we know that Newton’s laws are accurate representations of motion? Because every time we compare the two (at human scales), we get a perfect match. The simulated neurons are no different.

            What you keep missing is that any simulation (or representation, or abstraction) necessarily includes features that are absent from reality and excludes features that are present in reality. A map includes some features that are absent from reality (e.g. black lines, flat surface, north-south orientation marks, etc.), and excludes features that are present in reality (e.g. blades of grass, rocks, etc.). Newton’s laws include some features that are absent from reality (e.g. center of gravity, center of mass), and excludes some features that are present in reality (e.g. colors of objects, etc.). So, even if a map or Newton’s laws are fantastically useful in terms of navigation and predicting the motion of bodies in space, it simply does not follow that they are “a perfect match”.

            That means that if “the simulated neurons are no different”, then they will both include features that are absent from reality and exclude features that are present in reality. It is quite possible that one of the features that they exclude could be conscious experience, and that remains true irrespective of how effective the simulation is to model some kind of behavior.

            We can (and must!) dismiss that with the same contempt we’d dismiss the notion that maybe there’s something “more” to a ball in trajectory than just Newton’s laws — that, yes, Newton’s laws apply, but there’re also invisible ball faeries who shepherd the ball peacefully way to the catcher’s glove.

            Why must we dismiss this notion with contempt? I’m saying that there is something about the neurological dynamics of the brain within a living organism that is essential to conscious awareness. This is not “invisible ball faeries”, or any such nonsense. Neurons are living entities that are part of complex networks that include both the nervous system, but also the physical body itself, and its surrounding environment, and series of developmental stages that it passed through. I don’t see why consciousness can’t be a phenomenon that requires that complex interlocking living system to occur, a system that is utterly absent in a computer simulation. Only the complex interlocking living system has all the necessary and sufficient features that produce consciousness. A computer simulation, as I mentioned above, is an abstraction that necessarily removes features of a living organism, features that may be necessary for consciousness.

            William of Ockham had some insight into the question….

            Actually, Aristotle beat him to it (e.g. Physics 259a10). What a superstitious idiot!

            • Posted October 9, 2015 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

              I’ve got to run out for the rest of the day; a real answer will have to wait until this evening. But the short version is that we’ve got all the pieces various places, including computers and animal studies and the like…and you’re insisting on absolute perfection which not only isn’t necessary but that we know is far from the case. Find something yellow on your computer display, and it is not actually yellow; it’s a blend of red and green. Look at a rainbow, and the yellow you see there is yellow.

              …gotta run….

              b&

              • dguller
                Posted October 9, 2015 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

                Ben:

                But the short version is that we’ve got all the pieces various places, including computers and animal studies and the like…and you’re insisting on absolute perfection which not only isn’t necessary but that we know is far from the case.

                First, I’ve already explained the problems with claiming that computer programs are conscious. Computer programs are simulated abstractions, and thus necessarily exclude various features of the reality that they are representing, which could include consciousness.

                Second, animal studies are irrelevant, because I’m not doubting that certain animals with a sufficient complexity in their brains are conscious to a certain extent. Only Cartesian dualists claim that animals are mindless machines, after all.

                Third, I don’t know what you mean when you say that I’m “insisting on absolute perfection”. That’s like telling someone who tells a mapmaker that they are missing important details in their maps that are present in the actual terrain that they’re “insisting on absolute perfection”. They’re not. They’re only telling the truth.

                Find something yellow on your computer display, and it is not actually yellow; it’s a blend of red and green. Look at a rainbow, and the yellow you see there is yellow.

                Optical illusions are supposed to prove … what exactly? I’m confused here.

                …gotta run….

                Take care.

              • Posted October 9, 2015 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

                Dguller,
                I don’t have a whole lot to add here that Ben didn’t already cover, but I will raise two points that I don’t see having been addressed.

                1) You claim that my position is impossible but yours is simply unknown. There’s two problems here: First, I’ve only seen you assert that consciousness cannot be explained by Physics and see no distinction in your argument and the argument that this website cannot be explained by Physics. Yes, the fact that whyevolutionistrue is not mentioned in the Standard Model is not evidence that it doesn’t exist. However, the Standard Model is not a full account of every existing thing, but rather an explanation for how every existing thing we’ve observed and determined with any level of confidence actually works. There is no difference between your claim that it doesn’t explain consciousness and it doesn’t explain this website. This website is a combination of the hardware that you connect to the Internet with, the abstract software that wrote the browser and the programs it runs, and the network that delivers the abstracted data around the world. This reduces to assembly code in the browser which in turn reduces to object code that specific processors can interpret. In turn, the processors run electrical currents and interpret electromagnetic states to keep track of this information. These states break down into atoms which further break down into particles which are fully, and I emphasize fully, accounted for by the Standard Model. And, this is true of every single thing we have a comprehensive explanation for. There is simply no reason to assert that because consciousness has not been broken down beyond the level of assembly code that there is some unknown force factoring in.

                2) Put aside what I just said, and assume that your position is “simply unknown”. Unknown is just that…unknown. This provides you with exactly nothing but the opportunity to say we should keep searching for the actual explanation. You do not get to insert a nebulous definition of “immaterial” forces as the answer to the unknown.

                In keeping with Ben’s friendly wager, I’ll bet you that you can’t offer a coherent explanation of how this immaterial consciousness interacts with matter. Is matter a receiver for a monolithic consciousness which then calls into question the definition of self? Or, is consciousness a partioned immaterial force which interacts which specific states of matter corresponding with individual humans? If so, what is the necessary complexity of matter to receive this consciousness and how can you demonstrate the point at which inanimate matter becomes a “consciousness receptor”? Or am I just not imaginative enough and you have a different message in mind?

                I’m already willing to concede that I owe Ben a half cup of coffee when he travels east, though I won’t acknowledge the bet was a complete loss. Can you add to my tab, or, as I asserted before, are you simply inserting your preferred argument because you can think of nothing better? You came perilously close to admitting just that in saying that your position is unknown.

            • Posted October 9, 2015 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

              First, you haven’t provided any account of how recurrent and reiterative neural feedback loops can produce a virtual reality representation of reality.

              Because I haven’t because they don’t.

              A simple reflex is itself an equally-simple virtual reality. The degree of dilation of your pupil is, essentially, a light meter. Yes, it would have evolved to adjust exposure on your retina…but an inevitable side-effect of that is that it’s also a light meter. The same holds true for any other stimulus / response phenomenon. Even outside of biology; your thermostat is also a thermometer; the float valve in your toilet a ruler.

              If we stay with the eye, it quickly becomes obvious that the nerves in the retina are, similarly, a computational mirror of the light impinging on them. And we know from various brain scan studies which have demonstrated that an image of what you’re looking at can be reconstructed from said brain scan, that there’s yet another computational mirror of that scene in your brain.

              You add all your sensory inputs together, and you’ve got a pretty good mirrored representation of reality right there — but this is just a reflection. Within the limits of perception (including things like illusions), it’s a pretty good model of what’s happening out there right this moment.

              But we also know that that’s not all that’s going on in the brain. You sometimes remember things you experienced in the past. Those same patterns repeat themselves in the brain, presenting not a real-time echo, but one with a significant delay between initial stimulus and response. But it’s still the same basic thing in principle.

              And, we use another very similar mechanism to manufacture novel “memories,” which is what we do when we consider the merits of picking chocolate over vanilla.

              None of this up until this point implies or requires qualia or self-awareness. In practice, it’s accompanied by both, but that’s because those phenomena are there and “on” all the time. But you could very reasonably imagine — and I’m sure there’re unfortunate patients who experience — vision and memory without much in the way of awareness. The light still falls on the retina, which still sends the usual corresponding symbolic representation down the optic nerve to the relevant portions of the brain, which again has the typical brain patterns that are vision and a (mostly) one-to-one correspondence with the light on the retina and thus the world in front of the eyes.

              But this last step, of the imagination…that’s where it all comes together.

              Take the existent mechanism to model the world in real time. Duplicate it (not necessarily exactly, of course) and, using this not-real-time mechanism, re-run stimuli with variations and record the responses from each variation. Rank the responses. Whichever response wins, send that response out to the rest of the nervous system as if it were the original real-time response.

              In very primitive brains, this is going to be little more than deciding whether to dodge left or right in order to evade the predator or catch the prey — and it’ll operate as instinctively (and fast) as your own flinch response, with no meaningful awareness. In increasingly sophisticated brains, the model will be both richer and capable of analyzing more options. When you’re running, you don’t need to think about where you’re planting your feet, and it’s basically instinctive if you should go around the fallen log or jump over it. And even more sophisticated models…well, you’ll know at the fork in the path that the left-hand way lead to a box canyon but the right-hand way leads back to the cave, so you’ll prepare well in advance to take the right-hand way.

              In the more sophisticated models, you yourself have to be included in the model. The model has to know not just how big the log is but how high and far you can jump. So the model runs both options: you imagine jumping over the log and smacking into it because it’s too big and the pain that results; you imagine running around the log and continuing on without smacking into the log, so you run around it.

              And there’s your qualia — it’s the recursive part of the model, your imagined self, the self perceiving the self, the self aware of itself: conscious self-awareness.

              The physical log itself obviously isn’t the qualia. The light of its image projected onto your retina isn’t the qualia. The electrochemical response in the retina isn’t the qualia. The corresponding electrochemical responses in the optic nerve and visual cortex aren’t the qualia. But when similar patterns in your cerebral cortex represent not just the visual image of the log but of you standing (running) there looking at the log, the pattern that represents yourself looking at the log, that’s the qualia. And a very similar pattern repeats itself when you remember looking at the log, or when you imagine what it would be like to jump over or run around some other log.

              It’s the perception of perception. You have the original perception of all the vision, and then you’ve got your mental image of all that, with an equally-imaginary version of yourself in the mental image with the imaginary projection of the vision…when the imagined you imagines itself imagining itself, that’s your metacognition.

              What you keep missing is that any simulation (or representation, or abstraction) necessarily includes features that are absent from reality and excludes features that are present in reality.

              So? Perfection is neither required nor observed. All those illusions, remember? It just has to be “good enough.”

              We can (and must!) dismiss that with the same contempt we’d dismiss the notion that maybe there’s something “more” to a ball in trajectory than just Newton’s laws — that, yes, Newton’s laws apply, but there’re also invisible ball faeries who shepherd the ball peacefully way to the catcher’s glove.

              Why must we dismiss this notion with contempt?

              Because the notion is that conservation laws are bullshit, in so many words.

              I don’t see why consciousness can’t be a phenomenon that requires that complex interlocking living system to occur, a system that is utterly absent in a computer simulation.

              Church-Turing says otherwise. And, since the Standard Model is Turing-computable, even if not practically so with current technology at large scales, we know that biological cognition really is equivalent to some computer algorithm. Even if you want to claim that neuron-level simulations aren’t good enough, a protein-level simulation almost assuredly would — and an atomic-scale simulation unquestionably would be. And, in reality, we probably don’t even have to go to the level of neurons to get “close enough.”

              Actually, Aristotle beat him to it (e.g. Physics 259a10). What a superstitiousidiot!

              Well, yeah, considering his idiotic nonsense about an utterly unnecessary unmoved mover. Though, to be fair, the concept of empiricism hadn’t yet fully caught on, else he would have done the same experiments Newton did that invalidated Aristotle’s Metaphysics.

              b&

              • Posted October 10, 2015 at 6:16 am | Permalink

                Ben:

                A simple reflex is itself an equally-simple virtual reality.

                Now, you’re going to have to define “virtual reality”, because a simple reflex is just a sensory neuron triggering a motor neuron to cause a muscle to contract. Virtual reality, insofar as I understand it, requires representations of reality that are other than reality, and there is no representation at the level of a simple reflex, but only the sheer reality of the reflex. Sure, a simple reflex can be part of a higher level representation. To say otherwise is to commit the fallacy of composition.

                And we know from various brain scan studies which have demonstrated that an image of what you’re looking at can be reconstructed from said brain scan, that there’s yet another computational mirror of that scene in your brain.

                Can you cite these studies? I had no idea that our level of precision in neuroscience had reached the point that one could determine simply based upon the neuroimaging what a person was perceiving. That is quite remarkable.

                You add all your sensory inputs together, and you’ve got a pretty good mirrored representation of reality right there — but this is just a reflection.

                But you don’t have a representation simply based upon the sensory inputs. A representation would have to be constructed from those sensory inputs, and that representation would be a virtual reality. The whole idea is that a virtual representation is several steps removed from the immediate sensory environment. However, a series of sensory neurons directly interacting with motor neurons to cause reflexive movements is not removed from the sensory environment, but is connected to it in the present moment. Something would have to occur between the sensory neurons and the motor neurons before it could be considered a virtual representation.

                And there’s your qualia — it’s the recursive part of the model, your imagined self, the self perceiving the self, the self aware of itself: conscious self-awareness.

                And there’s where you keep skipping the most important part. You seem to think that simply including the subject that is constructing the virtual models of reality of its interactions with its environment is sufficient to account for qualia. But it is not. After all, as I’ve pointed out many times before, one can conceive of such a scenario without the subjective conscious feelings associated with qualia at all. A person could perform every single function that you described and lack any subjective qualitative awareness whatsoever. So, there’s something important that is simply missing from your account.

                And the key point is that this missing part will always be missing from an account like yours, which is essentially an objective account. I will grant that your account is certainly necessary insofar as consciousness does require the underlying dynamics that you have described. I believe that Antonio Damasio described them well in his recent book, and I found that book to be compelling. However, such an account is not sufficient, because it is incomplete. I can look at all the computer simulations of sensory input, internal processing, and behavioral output, including the subject of such algorithms in the simulation, but I can never know what it is like to be that subject, simply from the computer simulation itself.

                So? Perfection is neither required nor observed. All those illusions, remember? It just has to be “good enough.”

                It may be “good enough” to predict behavior, but that does not mean that it is “good enough” to understand everything that is going on. Your argument for uncaused events is that the mathematical equations that apply to radioactive phenomena make no mention of causes, and since these equations are so effective at predicting (in a probabilistic fashion) the behavior of such phenomena, then there are no causes in reality. My counterargument is that those mathematical equations are abstractions that necessarily are incomplete, meaning that they include what does not exist and exclude what does exist. It is impossible simply on the basis of the equations themselves to know whether what the equations exclude are also excluded from reality. They might be actually excluded from reality, but you would need some evidence other than the equations to determine that.

                I really can’t believe that this is controversial.

                Because the notion is that conservation laws are bullshit, in so many words.

                They are not bullshit, but only apply to what they apply to. Same thing with Newton’s laws. They are great for what they work for, but they suck for what they don’t work for, and a whole new kind of physics had to be developed to account for the latter phenomena. But regardless, I don’t happen to believe in little immaterial beings regularly interfering with material reality, if that’s what you think. However, I do not believe that modern physics is comprehensive, i.e. has explained the totality of reality.

                I do find the cosmological argument compelling, meaning that there is something that sustains the reality that modern physics describes so well. That “something” does not have to violate any laws of physics, by the way, because the laws of physics only apply to the effects of this “something”, and the “something” itself. Truth be told, I wouldn’t even call this “something” “God”.

                Church-Turing says otherwise.

                Admittedly, I am a gross amateur here, but where does Church-Turing discuss subjective consciousness? That’s what we’re talking about here. My claim is that we can conclude that higher level mammals are conscious, because their biology is similar enough to ours, but a computer program? That would be like saying that reading a map of a tall mountain is like climbing a tall mountain. Sure, the map of the mountain and the mountain itself share formal features in common – otherwise, there would be no map at all – but that doesn’t mean that you need extra oxygen when looking at the peak of the mountain on the map.

                Though, to be fair, the concept of empiricism hadn’t yet fully caught on, else he would have done the same experiments Newton did that invalidated Aristotle’s Metaphysics.

                Except that Newton didn’t invalidate Aristotle’s metaphysics. He certainly invalidating much of his physics, but not his metaphysics, which is still applicable.

              • Posted October 10, 2015 at 7:59 am | Permalink

                I’m out of town for the weekend, likely won’t have a chance to reply further, and have lots to do before I leave…so this will be very short.

                But you don’t have a representation simply based upon the sensory inputs. A representation would have to be constructed from those sensory inputs, and that representation would be a virtual reality.

                The sensory inputs themselves are a representation. The senses correspond with reality but are not reality. There’s no need for additional abstraction; they’re already abstract.

                You seem to think that simply including the subject that is constructing the virtual models of reality of its interactions with its environment is sufficient to account for qualia.

                Not account for. That is the phenomenon.

                What is self-awareness but awareness of the self? What is qualia if not the awareness of the perception as opposed to the perception itself?

                If you have a model that models itself, that’s self-awareness. If that model then perceives its perception, that’s qualia.

                There has to be something that it is “like” for the self to be aware of the self — or else the self isn’t actually aware of the self. You can question why self-awareness should be “like” this as opposed to “like” that, but you can’t then go on to suggest that it shouldn’t be “like” anything at all. If it’s not “like” anything at all, then the self isn’t aware of the self in the first place and you don’t have self-awareness. And why it’s “like” this instead of “like” that boils down to wondering why some eyes are blue and others brown, and why this person’s eyes are brown.

                My counterargument is that those mathematical equations are abstractions that necessarily are incomplete, meaning that they include what does not exist and exclude what does exist.

                Sorry; you’re very much behind the times on that. Re-read Sean Carroll’s essay on why the laws underlying everyday physics are completely understood.

                Admittedly, I am a gross amateur here, but where does Church-Turing discuss subjective consciousness?

                You keep reifying subjectiveness. It’s just the from-the-inside perception of an inner loop of the recursion. And, obviously, from that perspective, it’s the center of existence, everything else revolves around it, the outside is foreign, only dimly perceived through layer after layer, and so on. Exactly what we experience.

                Except that Newton didn’t invalidate Aristotle’s metaphysics. He certainly invalidating much of his physics, but not his metaphysics, which is still applicable.

                You’re very much behind the times on this. Metaphysics was an initial stab at understanding motion, cosmology, and cognition…and we’re so far beyond Aristotle’s primitive superstitions on all three fronts that it’s highly absurd to suggest anything he wrote about is even vaguely relevant. Compare Aristotle’s Prime Mover with what CMB observations tell us about the origins of nucleosynthesis, or Zeno’s paradox with Relativistic formulations of time, or Plato’s Cave with cognitive neuroscience…and you’ll find they make as much sense as trying to cure leprosy by sacrificing small birds.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 10, 2015 at 6:40 am | Permalink

                Chris:

                First, I’ve only seen you assert that consciousness cannot be explained by Physics and see no distinction in your argument and the argument that this website cannot be explained by Physics.

                That’s true! This website could not exist without the conscious efforts of Coyne, and since modern physics cannot explain consciousness, then it cannot explain how this website came to exist. Sure, modern physics can describe a whole hell of a lot about how this website came into existence, but it will always be missing some important details that have to be supplied from outside of modern physics.

                the Standard Model is not a full account of every existing thing, but rather an explanation for how every existing thing we’ve observed and determined with any level of confidence actually works.

                No, the standard model is a remarkably effective theory that explains the aspects of material reality that can be quantified by mathematics. Anything that cannot be quantified is outside the purview of the standard model, and that would include anything that is qualitative in nature, including consciousness itself. To assert otherwise is tantamount to the claim that squares are, in reality, nothing but circles, which is incoherent.

                Put aside what I just said, and assume that your position is “simply unknown”. Unknown is just that…unknown. This provides you with exactly nothing but the opportunity to say we should keep searching for the actual explanation. You do not get to insert a nebulous definition of “immaterial” forces as the answer to the unknown.

                But there are things that we do know, simply by negation. For example, we know that the material world involves both qualitative and quantitative aspects. If you claim that only the quantitative can count as “material”, then the qualitative is necessarily “immaterial”. But that just means that it cannot be quantified nor derived from what is quantifiable. This is simply a matter of semantics, unless you make the further claim that only the quantifiable aspects of material reality are real, the rest being somehow unreal, then you get into problems.

                Why bother making such a bold assertion? We both know that material reality consists of both qualitative and quantitative aspects, which means that the qualitative is just as material and real as the quantitative. In that sense, consciousness is perfectly material. So, it depends upon what you mean by “material”. If you have a narrow definition of “material”, then consciousness is immaterial, but if you have a broader definition of “material” then consciousness is material.

                Furthermore, if it is impossible to derive the qualitative from the quantitative, then the quantitative cannot be foundational and fundamental. The qualitative must be equally foundational and fundamental, and therefore a theory of material reality would have to take that into consideration. There are theories that attempt to do so, such as panpsychism and Aristotelian hylemorphism, for example.

                In keeping with Ben’s friendly wager, I’ll bet you that you can’t offer a coherent explanation of how this immaterial consciousness interacts with matter.

                Again, it depends upon what you mean by “matter”. If you mean the quantifiable properties of physical objects, then you are correct that I have no explanation. But then again, neither does anyone else. But if you have a broader definition of matter to include the qualitative as well as the quantitative, then there is simply no problem. Qualities are just as present in matter as quantities. There’s no mysterious interaction at all.

                That’s why this only became an issue with Descartes by virtue of his peculiar and unique theory of matter as essentially mathematical in nature (i.e. “extension”). It was only with that conception of matter that the “interaction problem” was born. It wasn’t an issue before him, because every pre-Cartesian thinker understood that the mathematical properties of matter were only part of what defined matter. The qualitative was present in matter, as well. But Descartes defined all of matter as quantified, which resulted in a series of philosophical problems that are simply insurmountable. However, if you reject Descartes’ assumptions, then it’s all good.

              • Posted October 10, 2015 at 8:03 am | Permalink

                qualitative and quantitative

                This distinction is obviously very important to you, but it’s not one that’s even coherent when one moves outside of the confines of the human skull.

                b&

              • Posted October 10, 2015 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

                Ben:

                The sensory inputs themselves are a representation. The senses correspond with reality but are not reality. There’s no need for additional abstraction; they’re already abstract.

                I agree that there is information that is transferred from the initial sensory input throughout the subsequent downstream effects, but that information, at first, is not a representation. It becomes a representation. Certainly, there must be some kind of isomorphism between the sensory input and the subsequent representation, or else the representation couldn’t possibly be about the sensory input at all. But it doesn’t follow that the representation be present at the level of sensory input itself, and it certainly doesn’t follow that it is abstract at the beginning. In fact, it is concrete and particular.

                What is self-awareness but awareness of the self? What is qualia if not the awareness of the perception as opposed to the perception itself?

                But again, you are making a leap from self-representation, which is all you have been talking about, to self-awareness, which is the qualitative feel of subjective experience, i.e. what it is like to have that experience.

                Taking Thomas Nagel’s famous example, we could know everything there is about the neurobiology of a bat, run as many computer simulations that mirror that neurobiology, and even know that the bat’s internal models must incorporate that particular bat as the central subject of its experiences, but we still have no idea what it is like to be a bat having such an experience. That aspect of the bat’s reality is completely missing from the objective account, and necessarily so, because the third-person objective perspective cannot capture the first-person subjective perspective.

                The best that an objective account, such as yours, can do is describe the objective underpinnings of subjective experience, and perhaps correlate some of the subjective phenomenology with the underlying neurobiological processes, but that is all. Your account has not, and cannot, describe or convey or account for the felt reality of the subjective experience itself.

                There has to be something that it is “like” for the self to be aware of the self — or else the self isn’t actually aware of the self. You can question why self-awareness should be “like” this as opposed to “like” that, but you can’t then go on to suggest that it shouldn’t be “like” anything at all. If it’s not “like” anything at all, then the self isn’t aware of the self in the first place and you don’t have self-awareness.

                Agreed on all counts.

                And why it’s “like” this instead of “like” that boils down to wondering why some eyes are blue and others brown, and why this person’s eyes are brown.

                No. It’s saying that even knowing what electromagnetic spectrum the color brown occupies, and how photons of that particular wavelength and frequency affect the optic nerve, and are subsequently processed in the brain, and including however many reiterative and self-referential loops and models as you like, we still have no explanation for why brown looks brown as a specific subjective experience. In other words, we have no idea what it is like to experience the color brown. We only know the background objective processes that necessarily must occur in order to have that felt experience at all.

                Sorry; you’re very much behind the times on that. Re-read Sean Carroll’s essay on why the laws underlying everyday physics are completely understood.

                I think that Carroll is correct to say that modern physics has a total understanding of everyday objective reality. However, it completely fails to account for subjective conscious experience, mainly because physics necessarily sweeps subjective factors under the rug and out of its explanations, and focuses upon the quantitative aspects of material reality, neither of which makes it relevant to understanding subjective conscious experience, which is neither objective nor quantifiable.

                You keep reifying subjectiveness.

                Should I not think of subjectivity as real and concrete? Is it unreal and abstract instead?

                It’s just the from-the-inside perception of an inner loop of the recursion. And, obviously, from that perspective, it’s the center of existence, everything else revolves around it, the outside is foreign, only dimly perceived through layer after layer, and so on. Exactly what we experience.

                Again, I’m not denying that your account captures a great of what occurs in conscious awareness of the self. I’m only denying that it captures everything about conscious awareness of the self. It does not capture the what it feels like to have a conscious experience. I mean, do you really know what it feels like to be the particular subject that is the product of the “from-the-inside perception of an inner loop of the recursion”? Of course not. And that is precisely what is always going to be missing from your objective computational account of self-awareness.

                You’re very much behind the times on this. Metaphysics was an initial stab at understanding motion, cosmology, and cognition…and we’re so far beyond Aristotle’s primitive superstitions on all three fronts that it’s highly absurd to suggest anything he wrote about is even vaguely relevant.

                I know of nothing in science that falsifies the distinction between act and potency, the reality of substances with essences, the inherent directedness or teleology of particular beings towards the actualization of their natures, and so on. (Of note, even Heisenberg himself used the Aristotelian categories of act and potency to explain quantum mechanics, and he was neither primitive nor superstitious.) Certainly, many scientists pretend that such a metaphysical framework is unnecessary, but then inevitably smuggle in its key features into their own work.

              • Posted October 10, 2015 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

                Ben:

                Sorry, I missed this one:

                This distinction is obviously very important to you, but it’s not one that’s even coherent when one moves outside of the confines of the human skull.

                Does that mean that apes have no qualitative experiences? 😉

                Joking aside, you are correct that qualitative aspects of material entities necessarily require a conscious mind to actualize, but it is certainly true that they exist in a potential state in material entities, even in the absence of a conscious mind to perceive them in a qualitative fashion.

    • Posted October 8, 2015 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      If by “material”, you mean, “reducible to physics”, then consciousness is certainly immaterial, because it cannot be reduced to physics.

      How do you know this? If it can’t be reduced to Physics, what is consciousness and how does it work? If you don’t know, you’re in exactly the same position as the materialist who refers to the Standard Model, but you don’t have anything at all to fall back on. You’re proposed a force or energy that interacts with material in the Standard Model that not only have we not detected, we have no precise definition for.

      You go on about qualia being irreducible. Sure, we don’t have a way to subjectively experience what others subjectively experience, but you’re proposing that qualia exist independently from the material that Physics defines. If they do exist independently, there’s no particularly high bar for evidence. Show me subjective awareness apart from a material body. As Sastra has pointed out on this site in the past, a talking head with its brain removed would suffice. Or hell, let’s not even go that far…a talking head with its brain intact but devoid or neuronal activity (dead, in layman’s terms) would suffice.

      I’ll assume you agree that a big part of consciousness is involved in personal memories of the past, awareness that we did things and our brains have a (somewhat limited) ability to draw a continuous line back to childhood. Our brains are made of matter just like computers. As Ben has already pointed out, computers have memory and have shown limited degrees of consciousness and our confidence in this is at least equal to the confidence we have that any other human on the planet is subjectively aware of their own experience. There’s no magic going on in creating these machines. We use the laws of Physics and create these machines that can remember and be self-referential without any magical immaterial forces.

      Now, envision 50-60 years into the future when our technology catches up to the processing power of the human brain. If we create a robot that is indiscernible from a human being to an outside observer, on what grounds would you claim the robot doesn’t have subjective experience similar to what we have?

      • Posted October 9, 2015 at 5:29 am | Permalink

        Chris:

        How do you know this?

        I know this because one cannot derive neither the subjective from the objective nor the qualitative from the quantitative. Again, with regards to physics, you have to remember that physics necessarily involves the abstraction of qualitative aspects of the material world, and thus, exclusively deals with the quantitative aspects of the material world. It seeks the find the mathematical underpinnings of material reality, and thus has discovered a number of equations that are highly successful at understanding and predicting the behavior of material entities. But it does so by ignoring the other non-quantitative aspects of material reality, including subjective and conscious experience. In other words, it has a fundamental blind spot for the qualitative, and therefore, cannot be used to understand what is in the blind spot.

        If it can’t be reduced to Physics, what is consciousness and how does it work? If you don’t know, you’re in exactly the same position as the materialist who refers to the Standard Model, but you don’t have anything at all to fall back on. You’re proposed a force or energy that interacts with material in the Standard Model that not only have we not detected, we have no precise definition for.

        The difference between your position and mine is that yours is necessarily impossible, and mine is simply unknown. I would rather adhere to a position that is not logically contradictory, but that’s just me.

        Show me subjective awareness apart from a material body.

        I don’t have to. Again, my position is not dualism, but only that the current understanding of matter logically precludes the existence of subjective experience. Therefore, our understanding of matter must change in a fundamental fashion. I am happy to affirm that consciousness and matter must go hand in hand, and that the former cannot exist without the latter.

        However, it simply isn’t possible to derive subjective experience from the quantitative. So, if physics is exclusively concerned with the quantitative, such that whatever is non-quantitative is unreal, then subjective experience must also be unreal, because it is qualitative, not quantitative, and thus beyond the purview of physics.

        The solution would be to have a theory of matter that incorporates both the qualitative and the quantitative, much like to understand an orange, it makes no sense to first drain it of its juice and pulp, and then start with the remaining husk as the real orange. Maybe we have to consider panpsychism, or hylemorphism, or something else. I don’t know, to be honest. But the fact remains that I don’t need an alternative if the current theory necessarily involves logical contradictions.

        • Vaal
          Posted October 10, 2015 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

          “I know this because one cannot derive neither the subjective from the objective nor the qualitative from the quantitative. “

          I wonder if there isn’t a sort of special pleading hidden in such demands to “derive” something.

          This leads me to ask: What is this “subjective” and “qualitative” of which you speak?

          How will you convey this to me – e.g. “it is this but not that….”

          Presumably you will use language. But can we derive subjectivity/qualitative from the language you will use to convey this?

          In other words, I’m looking to see if you are demanding, *only in the case of subjectivity/consciousness,* that description do a level of work it is not asked to do in any other of our attempt at descriptions and derivations.

          If one could possibly describe the qualitative by appeal to quantitative language, what could that look like?

          Or, are you possibly engaging in a tautology, where you are essentially defining “objective” and “subjective” etc such that is is impossible in principle?

          Just not sure yet.

  47. Vaal
    Posted October 10, 2015 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    dguller,

    I can’t get in on this conversation in much detail, but from your comments to Ben above:

    But again, you are making a leap from self-representation, which is all you have been talking about, to self-awareness, which is the qualitative feel of subjective experience, i.e. what it is like to have that experience.

    When I see people making the case for the Hard Problem of Consciousness (as you seem to be doing) I am always struck with the impression it depends on applying some unreasonable, special standard, made in principle impossible to reach, only in the case of consciousness. In every other area of our empirical, material description we accept that the description is not “the thing being described.” But when it comes to consciousness, objections like yours above seem to be essentially of this ilk. “You’ve provided a purported DESCRIPTION of self-awareness, but since the sensation of self-awareness isn’t that description, how do I know they are the same? Since my experiencing of X is qualitatively different than your describing my experience of X, then you aren’t really describing my experience.”

    This seems to set an impossible, unreasonable standard.

    If all we have are descriptions, mathematical or linguistic, what else would one expect? And to say that the self-representation Ben describes is NOT self-awareness seems to beg the question. Why not?

    How would you know it’s not? What ELSE would it be and how would you know something with self-representation – for instance a computer we could build in the future whose processes we knew produced sophisticated self-representation – how would you know that is NOT self-awareness of the type we experience? There doesn’t seem to be any principled answer to this question that I’ve seen from the Hard Problem crowd (though I may have missed it). It’s like Chalmer’s P-Zombie, which I agree with many, seems to beg the question (that a being could be physically the same as us, but would not be conscious like us).

    It seems we are left with the same methods of inference for consciousness as with anything else in the world. So at some point we have to recognize that our descriptions are not the thing itself, but so long as consciousness interacts physically in the way we expect on a materialist hypothesis (e.g. is perturbed physically in predictable ways), then we have to satisfy ourselves at some point with a physical description of consciousness – which will not BE consciousness itself.

    “Taking Thomas Nagel’s famous example, we could know everything there is about the neurobiology of a bat, run as many computer simulations that mirror that neurobiology, and even know that the bat’s internal models must incorporate that particular bat as the central subject of its experiences, but we still have no idea what it is like to be a bat having such an experience.”

    But since nothing about that is surprising given materialism (or naturalism or whatever), and would be in fact expected, how does it count against the materialist account of consciousness? It’s like when some argue we can open up the brain, see all the neurons firing, but not see qualia. Well of course not. If qualia is the experience of the individual, we wouldn’t EXPECT to “see it” any more than we’d expect to see the windows desktop graphics by looking at the circuit board. Though we could, in another important sense, “see” his experience IF we know which physical activities are correlating with subjective experience.

    Similarly, we wouldn’t expect to experience what a bat experiences using OUR brains to investigate everything there is objectively to know about the bat’s brain. Even if we try to make a bat simulator, or put ourselves in the position of a bat in a cave, our brains will be doing different, more complex things, making for a different experience. That is completely to be expected on the material account of consciousness.

    What if we could somehow, in the future, modulate our brains, restrict them in the right areas, augment prosthetically in others, to make our brain model that of a bat? Then we could “know” what it’s like to be a bat.

    Except, of course, for objections like “am I myself when I’m only in bat brain mode? If so, how can ‘I’ be the thing ‘knowing’ what it’s like to be a bat.” But all such issues get to things like the problem of identity and other issues, which: A. are problematic on any account, dualistic, monistic, everything in between and B. do not contradict the materialistic account at any rate, since they are still expected.

    I’m sure at least some of this is “well…duh…of course!” material. But that’s really mostly the point: I fail to see how examples that are “well, duh, of course” GIVEN materialism count as arguments AGAINST a materialist view of consciousness/the mind.

    (Naturally, I look forward to any clarifications of your argument insofar as I’ve missed it. I have to admit skimming here given my time).

    • Posted October 11, 2015 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      Vaal,

      If qualia is the experience of the individual, we wouldn’t EXPECT to “see it” any more than we’d expect to see the windows desktop graphics by looking at the circuit board.

      This is the key. That we get a different cognition and experience by looking at a brain in action, versus being a brain in action, is itself a prediction of the materialist hypothesis. What dguller et. al. are doing is rejecting a hypothesis because it makes a successful prediction.

      Which you already pointed out, in your penultimate paragraph. I just thought it bears repeating, I guess.

    • dguller
      Posted October 11, 2015 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Vaal:

      When I see people making the case for the Hard Problem of Consciousness (as you seem to be doing) I am always struck with the impression it depends on applying some unreasonable, special standard, made in principle impossible to reach, only in the case of consciousness. In every other area of our empirical, material description we accept that the description is not “the thing being described.” But when it comes to consciousness, objections like yours above seem to be essentially of this ilk.

      That is because for objective empirical phenomena, the objective description is sufficient to capture everything objective about the phenomena. However, when you include subjective appearance, seeming and feelings, then an objective description will always fall short. After all, the subjective appearance is never the objective reality, and hence cannot be captured in an objective description. If the subjective could be captured by the objective, then the subjective and the objective would be identical, which is absurd, because the objective involves the elimination of the subjective. So, I can certainly appreciate why someone would think that consciousness is simply held to a higher evidentiary standard, but that would be like someone trying to prove that squares are really circles complaining that the evidentiary standard is just too high. Rather, the project itself is incoherent, which is why it is so difficult.

      If all we have are descriptions, mathematical or linguistic, what else would one expect?

      We would expect that anything that couldn’t be captured in mathematical or linguistic descriptions would be utterly absent from theories that depend upon such descriptions. However, it does not follow that the elusive reality simply does not exist. All that follows is that the theories in question are always going to be incomplete.

      And to say that the self-representation Ben describes is NOT self-awareness seems to beg the question. Why not?

      Because it makes no mention of why, given the self-representational models in question, the self has the particular felt quality of subjective experience that he or she does. It does not explain why the color brown appears as brown, why the experience of pain feels painful, and so on. These are subjective conscious experiences that are always going to be missing from any objective description.

      How would you know it’s not? What ELSE would it be and how would you know something with self-representation – for instance a computer we could build in the future whose processes we knew produced sophisticated self-representation – how would you know that is NOT self-awareness of the type we experience?

      The self-awareness that we experience occurs exclusively within biological living organisms. For all we know, conscious awareness requires a functional biological nervous system within a physical body that has evolved in a particular environment. In other words, it is possible that self-awareness has both formal and material components that are both necessary for consciousness itself to occur. That is why I have no problem accepting that various complex animals are capable of a kind of conscious awareness.

      The burden of proof is upon the advocate of non-biological consciousness to make the case that it is possible. Certainly, such a claim goes beyond our empirical evidence of consciousness. They would have to demonstrate that it is sufficient to have the same formal characteristics of our neurobiology, irrespective of their material components, to generate a conscious experience. That is also why I think it is perfectly possible for a computer to have self-representation in the form that Ben describes without having conscious awareness, but I think it is incoherent for an organism to share the same physical brain and body as a human being and yet have no consciousness at all. So, I agree with you that Chalmers’ P-zombies are likely impossible.

      It seems we are left with the same methods of inference for consciousness as with anything else in the world. So at some point we have to recognize that our descriptions are not the thing itself, but so long as consciousness interacts physically in the way we expect on a materialist hypothesis (e.g. is perturbed physically in predictable ways), then we have to satisfy ourselves at some point with a physical description of consciousness – which will not BE consciousness itself.

      Except that the “physical description of consciousness” will always exclude the felt subjective experience of consciousness itself. That is a necessary limitation of materialist theories of reality, which is not a problem if one accepts that such theories are fundamentally incomplete, which means that there are aspects of reality that are real, but not captured by such materialist theories of reality. It is only a problem if you make the claim that the materialist theories of reality are complete, and can capture all of reality. Then you must either deny the reality of consciousness (i.e. eliminative materialism) or affirm that subjective experience (i.e. what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective) can be fully described by an objective theory of some kind.

      You likely endorse the latter as the best option, but the problem with it, as I’ve mentioned above, is that the what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective will always be absent from any objective materialist theory, because such a theory can only be described using terms that are ultimately reducible to fundamental physics, which has completely stripped any trace of subjectivity from its terminology and conceptual framework. But even if you lack the standards here, and just focus upon a macroscopic description using computational models of the mind, an algorithm, no matter how self-referential and complex, also fails to capture the what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective. I can examine the workings and processes of such an algorithm, and still have no idea what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective of the computer program.

      But since nothing about that is surprising given materialism (or naturalism or whatever), and would be in fact expected, how does it count against the materialist account of consciousness? It’s like when some argue we can open up the brain, see all the neurons firing, but not see qualia. Well of course not. If qualia is the experience of the individual, we wouldn’t EXPECT to “see it” any more than we’d expect to see the windows desktop graphics by looking at the circuit board. Though we could, in another important sense, “see” his experience IF we know which physical activities are correlating with subjective experience.

      The problem is that if materialism (or naturalism) says that the only reality is an objective reality, then it would follow that everything subjective can be reduced to an objective description of that reality, then materialism will necessarily miss important aspects of the subjective itself, as you yourself admit when you state that the objective description of neurons firing in a network would not describe the subjective felt experience within the neural network itself.

      That is completely to be expected on the material account of consciousness.

      The fact that a material account of consciousness can explain a great deal about consciousness does not mean that it can explain everything about consciousness. So, pointing to all the things that a materialist theory of consciousness gets right does not mean that it doesn’t get other things completely wrong.

      As I mentioned above, the bottom line here is that if you agree that the what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective is real, then either an objective account of the background and underlying material or computational processes is sufficient to capture the what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective, is insufficient to do so.

      If the former, then you have the task of describing the what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective exclusively in objective terminology, meaning that the objective alone can fully account for every aspect of the subjective. After all, in reality, there are only neurons firing in an integrated network of self-referential virtual reality models of sufficient complexity, at least according to Ben’s account. Based only upon such an objective description, one must comprehensively capture what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective. If this subjective reality is always missing from the objective description, then that theory underlying that description must be incomplete and insufficient.

      And I would argue that any such theory would necessarily be incomplete and insufficient, because it is structurally so by virtue of the fact that all objective descriptions necessarily eliminate any trace of subjectivity. That is what an objective description is, i.e. there is nothing subjective in the objective description itself. How is it possible to explain the subjective when it is systematically and structurally put out of sight and behind a blind spot?

      • Posted October 11, 2015 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        @dguller,

        After all, the subjective appearance is never the objective reality, and hence cannot be captured in an objective description.

        The subjective appearance of, say, a tree, is never the objective reality of the tree. But it doesn’t follow that the subjective appearance isn’t some other objective reality, such as some of your brain activity.

        Now, it’s true that subjectivity can’t be “captured” in an objective description, in the sense of “captured” – epistemic equivalence – that you probably mean. But by the same token, the wateriness of water can’t be “captured” by a chemical description of H2O; the concept of heat can’t be “captured” by the theory of molecular motion; and so on. That is, none of these things follow a priori. All scientific identity statements, like “water is H2O”, are a posteriori: they start as tentative hypotheses, then build up evidence. After the identity is widely accepted, it might seem common-sensical to look at a chemical description and immediately think “this is water,” but not before. Similar points will apply, I expect, to far future doctors looking at brain scans and seeing pain (and probably wincing in sympathy). So there is no difference here between qualia and anything else science investigates. Vaal is right: you’re engaging in special pleading.

        “Objective” in your usage, as applied to concepts, just amounts to “not subjective”. Compare, then, “water” and “non water” concepts. You can’t logically derive a “water” conclusion from a combination of non-water-concept based statements. To derive a watery conclusion, you need to assume the a posteriori identity, water is H2O.

        I expect you’ll object that objectivity is fundamental to science, but non-water-ness isn’t, and that’s why your argument isn’t just special pleading. But there you’re in danger of equivocating on “objectivity.” Yes, science needs results observers can agree on, but that doesn’t mean autopsychological reports have no place.

        • Posted October 11, 2015 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

          I think you’re into something here and I would add that many of these problems go away when the subjective is viewed as a subset of the objective. Objective reality existed and latwr subjective awareness aroae out of this objective reality. Yes, the Standard Model doesn’t give an account for subjective qualia, but I think to expect it to do so is to miss the point altogether. The Standard Model gives a framework for the rules about how stuff interacts (and I use “stuff” here intentionally to avoid the nebulous distinction between material and immaterial). Viewed that way, it does account for consciousness. Dguller wants to add more on top of that and I do not disagree in principle that more stuff could exist, but I do want to see a coherent definition of what this stuff is and how it interacts with the world. We all seem to agree that the explanation described by the Standard Model is part of the equation and without it, your subjective awareness would not exist.

          What I have yet to see demonstrated (here, or anywhere else) is how the “failure” of Physics to account for consciousness is any different than the “failure” to account for say fluid dynamics. Yes, particle Physics will never get you water, but you’ll always be able to zoom in on water and get particle Physcis. Fluid dynamics is the sensible, yet not fully understood, macroscopic account for how water, air currents, and other such things work. A full account doesn’t mean there’s something about the atmosphere that the Standard Model misses at a particle level. Likewise, there are better tools to help us come to grasp with consciousness (yes, I’ve seen the studies Ben alluded to about being able to write computer programs that interpret a shape or letter somehow is subjectively thinking about and this lends credence to the theory that Physics can help us understand it). On that note, it is not a computer program that could be conscious, but the program running on a complicated enough hardware system that could be conscious. As I pointed out before, we can only assume other humans are subjectively aware based on their subjective statements which we can subjectively relate to. A sophisticated enough computer which is indistinguishable from a human would give us no reason not to be equally confident that it is also subjectively aware. This holds true until someone demonstrates that consciousness is a fundamentally different part of reality not composed of the particles in the Standard Model. No one has done any such thing.

          • Posted October 12, 2015 at 5:56 am | Permalink

            Chris:

            I think you’re into something here and I would add that many of these problems go away when the subjective is viewed as a subset of the objective.

            Now, suppose someone told you that the circular should be viewed as a subset of the square. Sure, that would solve the problem of how circles can’t be squares, but only superficially, because in reality, a circle cannot be a square, and therefore, cannot be a subset of squares.

            The Standard Model gives a framework for the rules about how stuff interacts (and I use “stuff” here intentionally to avoid the nebulous distinction between material and immaterial). Viewed that way, it does account for consciousness.

            No, it gives a framework to understand how the objective and physical aspects of consciousness operate, but it is utterly silent about subjective appearances themselves and how they work. In that sense, it does not “account for consciousness”, but only for some aspects of consciousness.

            We all seem to agree that the explanation described by the Standard Model is part of the equation and without it, your subjective awareness would not exist.

            Agreed. The issue is that it cannot be the whole and ultimate explanation in the sense that anything in reality, including subjectivity itself, can be reduced to the Standard Model.

            • Posted October 12, 2015 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

              Now, suppose someone told you that the circular should be viewed as a subset of the square. Sure, that would solve the problem of how circles can’t be squares, but only superficially, because in reality, a circle cannot be a square, and therefore, cannot be a subset of squares.

              This is a much weaker analogy than you think it is.

              To a topographer, there’s no difference between circles and squares. Circles and figure eights, yes; circles and squares, no.

              And the relevance of that to this discussion…is that the question of what the subjective is is an entirely different context from subjective experiences.

              The issue is that it cannot be the whole and ultimate explanation in the sense that anything in reality, including subjectivity itself, can bereduced to the Standard Model.

              Vaal nailed it on this one; your standards here are inordinately high.

              If I claimed that Newtonian mechanics is all you need to understand the Earth’s motion around the Sun, it would be unreasonable in the extreme to claim that a simple calculation of the parabola doesn’t tell you anything about the traffic on the I-10 between LA and Phoenix this morning.

              If I claim that the hydrological cycle tells you most of what you need to know about the Earth’s weather, it would be unreasonable in the extreme to claim that a failure to predict which houses will remain standing after a tornado strikes invalidates the theory.

              If I tell you that water is composed of two hydrogen atoms bonded to a single oxygen atom, it would be unreasonable in the extreme to claim that the presence of sodium and other salts in seawater demonstrates that water isn’t H2O.

              So, is there a great deal we don’t yet understand about minds and consciousness and perception and the rest? Absolutely. But we understand the basic outline — and in a lot more detail than Newton himself understood his own Mechanics.

              To tie this in to another discussion…because Newton didn’t solve the question of cosmogenesis doesn’t mean that he didn’t understand ballistics — or that his explanation of ballistics was in any meaningful way inadequate or lacking or the like. Yes, lots of fine detail to fill in, especially when you start encroaching on masses and velocities when Relativity starts to dominate…but he really did take all the mystery out of ballistics.

              And if Newton solved ballistics, for all insensitive porpoises, then we’ve already solved consciousness.

              b&

              • dguller
                Posted October 13, 2015 at 10:07 am | Permalink

                Ben:

                the question of what the subjective is is an entirely different context from subjective experiences.

                That is true, but if the explanation of subjectivity necessarily misses an essential aspect of subjectivity, then the explanation is fundamentally incomplete.

                your standards here are inordinately high …

                So, is there a great deal we don’t yet understand about minds and consciousness and perception and the rest? Absolutely. But we understand the basic outline — and in a lot more detail than Newton himself understood his own Mechanics.

                But, that’s the problem. We don’t understand “the basic outline”, because “the basic outline” necessarily excludes an essential part of the phenomenon in question. (It would be like Newton’s theory claiming to describe the basic outline of all bodies in motion, except that it misses bodies in motion.) In fact, it is constitutionally unable to account for that part at all. There is no extra layer of objective theorizing that could ever describe S (= the what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective). Sure, it can describe the objective correlates that constitute S, even including the objective factors that determine the rough outline of S, but it will always fail to account for S itself.

                So, the real question is whether if you claim that all of reality can ultimately be reduced to exclusively objective phenomena, then it necessarily follows that S, being a part of reality, must also be ultimately reduced to exclusively objective phenomena without remainder. That means that the concepts and language that we use to describe S must be translatable in their entirety to the concepts and language that we use to describe the fundamental objective constituents of reality. Your response is that such a project demands standards that are “inordinately high”, and that is not because such standards make the task in question really, really hard, but rather because such standards make such a task impossible.

                To get more specific for a moment, Coyne himself has argued that “the view that all sciences are in principle reducible to the laws of physics, which is materialism … must be true unless you’re religious” (https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/philosopher-thomas-nagel-goes-the-way-of-alvin-plantinga-disses-evolution/). Now, if the study of the human mind is to be considered a science, then it must be possible to have every aspect of the human mind, especially S, to be ultimately reduced to “the laws of physics”. But the laws of physics are quantitative and abstract, whereas S is qualitative and concrete, and there is simply no way to get from the former to the latter, meaning that the latter cannot be reduced to the former without adding something else that cannot be reduced to physics, which means that physics is just incomplete. That’s something that even an atheists like Bertrand Russell and Thomas Nagel understood.

                And let’s just address one of your analogies:

                If I tell you that water is composed of two hydrogen atoms bonded to a single oxygen atom, it would be unreasonable in the extreme to claim that the presence of sodium and other salts in seawater demonstrates that water isn’t H2O.

                The problem with this analogy is that you can show how “the presence of sodium and other salts in seawater” and that “water is composed of two hydrogen atoms bonded to a single oxygen atom” are consistent, according to a deeper and more comprehensive objective model of reality. In other words, you can demonstrate how a further examination of the matter using objective scientific methods would show that there is no inconsistency at all between the two propositions.

                However, you simply cannot do so with S in terms of any objective model of reality, because of what an objective model of reality is. When a scientist is objective, he or she removes or eliminates any trace of their subjectivity in the phenomena being studied, and assumes that those subjective aspects of the phenomena do not exist in the phenomena itself, but only in the scientist’s mind. That means that the phenomena in question would behave in such a way even if there was no subjective observer experiencing it. Those subjective aspects of the phenomena are essentially swept under the rug of the human mind, and thus excluded from the final scientific account. But what is the scientist to do when the phenomena in question are subjective mental phenomena? Typical scientific procedure would be to first sweep anything subjective under the rug of the human mind, and then begin to study it objectively, but to sweep subjective mental phenomena under the rug would eliminate the phenomena entirely, leaving nothing left to study. So, a totally new approach is needed, because the objective scientific method simply fails here.

                Ultimately, you can describe everything there is to describe about neuronal networks, self-referential informational feedback loops, and so on, and yet S will always elude your description. Again, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any role for the former, because there is, and such models do add information about how the mind works, but they will always be incomplete, because they have a blind spot for S that will never be penetrated using their assumptions and methods.

              • Posted October 13, 2015 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

                There is no extra layer of objective theorizing that could everdescribe S (= the what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective).

                Erm…I think you just demonstrated why your whole argument simply doesn’t apply.

                Have you ever seen an individual electron with your own eyes? Smelled the solar corona? Tasted Californium? Listened to the Cosmic Microwave Background? Felt a magnetic field?

                What you’re demanding isn’t an objective explanation of subjectivity. You’re demanding a subjective description of subjectivity.

                And we’ve already got your subjective description of subjectivity; see Shakespeare or the poet of your choice.

                When a scientist is objective, he or she removes or eliminates any trace of their subjectivity in the phenomena being studied, and assumes that those subjective aspects of the phenomena do not exist in the phenomena itself, but only in the scientist’s mind.

                The first part is true.

                The second can’t possibly be true, or else cognitive neuroscience, psychology, sociology, marketing, and an entire host of other disciplines wouldn’t exist.

                Just take a field that I happen to have immersed myself in recently: color perception. We really do know pretty much everything there is to know, objectively, about color. Indeed, outside of some footnotes about color blindness and low light conditions and the like, you can derive all of it just from this single small spreadsheet:

                http://files.cie.co.at/204.xls

                (That’s the 1931 2° Standard Observer, and subsequent experiments have improved on those measurements…but not enough to worry about in all but the most critical and exacting of work.)

                So…yeah. I take your objection that you yourself can’t see what blue looks like from within my skull about as seriously as I would take an objection that you also can’t yourself see infrared or ultraviolet light, either. We can indirectly observe and precisely measure and explain and simulate both human color perception and electromagnetic radiation outside the range of about 350 nm – 800 nm equally well. So why is it a problem to you to discuss the tristimulus equivalence of panchromatic light and a white background on a computer display, but not a problem to map the CMB?

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Posted October 12, 2015 at 5:58 am | Permalink

            Chris:

            Also, you cannot “zoom” into consciousness to see the particles of fundamental physics interacting. Truth be told, I don’t even understand what this means.

            • ascanius
              Posted October 12, 2015 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

              @dguller off topic, but where exactly are you situated these days in your metaphysical peripatetics, classical theism, but opposing trinitarianism or are you back to an aristotelian deism?

              • dguller
                Posted October 13, 2015 at 11:14 am | Permalink

                Ascanius:

                Still dabbling with classical theism. 🙂

            • ascanius
              Posted October 13, 2015 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

              has your dabbling with theism induced you to incorporate any rituals in your life as a way of connecting with/placating the theos/theoi? or does it have no practical impact on the way you lead your life?

              • dguller
                Posted October 14, 2015 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

                Ascanius:

                No, I haven’t incorporated any rituals or practices to engage in a relationship with the First Cause. I don’t believe that it cares much about what I do or don’t do. I see it in a similar way that Plato saw the Form of the Good, i.e. an object that sustains and determines everything around us, which is certainly worthy of awe and wonder, but not prayer or ritual.

            • ascanius
              Posted October 14, 2015 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

              @dguller

              so then do you functionally lead your life as an atheist does regarding the existence of gods?

              agnostic atheists like dawkins and harris find their sense of awe and wonder in the vastness and mystery of the physical universe(s)–which they also don’t think care(s) much about what they do or don’t do.

              how would you compare that sense of awe and wonder with yours which seems to be derived from something much more abstract?

              and do you follow plato into his belief in an immortal soul?

      • Posted October 11, 2015 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        @dguller,

        I forgot to address a few more points –

        The self-awareness that we experience occurs exclusively within biological living organisms. […] In other words, it is possible that self-awareness has both formal and material components that are both necessary for consciousness itself to occur.

        I kinda agree with you there. I like to draw an analogy between specific qualia (e.g. pain) and an internal combustion engine. Internal combustion is one way to make a car go. To a car that has it, it is typically crucial. If you take away the internal combustion, the car will not go. In certain contexts, seeing a car that drove, made it a dead certainty that it had an I.C.E. But once you hear that they’ve started making cars with electric motors – things change. Suddenly, it’s not enough to look at the car’s behavior. You have to look under the hood, if you want to know about an I.C.E.

        Constructing the psychological side of the analogy is left as an exercise for the reader. 😉

        On the other hand “self-awareness” sounds like a purely formal idea to me. You can have it without ever having pain. You can have it without ever seeing brown. Etc.

        The problem is that if materialism (or naturalism) says that the only reality is an objective reality, then it would follow that everything subjective can be reduced to an objective description of that reality,

        No. Emphasis added to highlight your mistake. Reality is reality, not a description. It may seem like I’m pouncing on a poor choice of word, but I don’t think so – your argument doesn’t proceed unless we let this map/territory confusion slip by.

        At the level of territory, everything is natural and material. That makes it “objective” in at least one sense.

        At the level of map, anything goes. There is no constraint against having concepts that are grasped only by self-reflection and not with outer-directed awareness. There is no requirement that a person is able to pinpoint the objective process in their brain. A materialist hypothesis, combined with some cognitive psychology, would suggest the opposite. Rampant dualism is exactly what you’d expect from human beings, if you were a materialist scientist who knew a damn thing about psych 101.

        And if we point someone’s eyes at a brain scan, should we expect them to say “aha, that’s pain, of course”? No, not at all. It takes hard work to get the territory reflected in the map. If being in the territory were sufficient for mapping the territory, that would be some kind of magic. And materialists don’t believe in magic. So please stop pretending that we must somehow think all concepts are purely objective.

        • Posted October 12, 2015 at 5:49 am | Permalink

          Paul:

          The subjective appearance of, say, a tree, is never the objective reality of the tree. But it doesn’t follow that the subjective appearance isn’t some other objective reality, such as some of your brain activity.

          If you want to defend the position that a subjective appearance is brain activity, then you have to clarify what you mean by “is”. Are you saying that a subjective appearance is identical to brain activity? Are you saying that a subjective appearance is reducible to brain activity?

          Now, it’s true that subjectivity can’t be “captured” in an objective description, in the sense of “captured” – epistemic equivalence – that you probably mean.

          What I mean is that the objective description will necessarily exclude certain real aspects of subjectivity. Therefore, one cannot possibly understand those excluded aspects of subjectivity on the basis of any objective description. Again, this only a problem if someone claims that the objective description is comprehensive and exhaustive, i.e. that the totality of the reality of its referent. However, if one agrees that the objective description only applies to part of the referent in question, then you’re fine.

          Similar points will apply, I expect, to far future doctors looking at brain scans and seeing pain (and probably wincing in sympathy).

          The problem is that the history of modern science is such that it has defined the material as objective in the sense that it lacks any of the subjective aspects that appear in conscious minds. For example, the redness of an apple is nothing but the emission of photons of a particular electromagnetic frequency and wavelength. The subjective appearance of redness is relegated to the mind, and said to have no objective correspondence in the apple itself. Now, how does one expect a methodology that necessarily operates by excluding subjectivity to be able to explain subjectivity on its own terms?

          What that means is that future doctors who see a brain scan of someone in pain may wince in sympathy, but they cannot “see” pain on the scan, but only the objective correlates to the patient’s subjective experience of pain. The only pain they will experience is their own imagination of the patient’s pain. That is not identical to the patient’s pain, though.

          So there is no difference here between qualia and anything else science investigates. Vaal is right: you’re engaging in special pleading.

          But there is a big difference, as I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions. Science investigates by eliminating the subjective. That is how it is structured, particularly since the Scientific Revolution with Galileo and Descartes. They focused exclusively upon the objective and quantitative aspects of material reality, and actually identified the objective and quantitative with material reality, leaving everything else as residing within the human mind as subjective appearances that did not exist in material reality. Since qualia are paradigmatic instances of subjective appearances, they will always be missed by any objective and scientific account of how the mind works, if that account presumes that the totality of material reality can be described by and reduced to its objective and quantitative models.

          “Objective” in your usage, as applied to concepts, just amounts to “not subjective”. Compare, then, “water” and “non water” concepts. You can’t logically derive a “water” conclusion from a combination of non-water-concept based statements. To derive a watery conclusion, you need to assume the a posteriori identity, water is H2O.

          Yes. Now, what if it turned out that saying that water is H2O is equivalent to saying that a circle is a square?

          Yes, science needs results observers can agree on, but that doesn’t mean autopsychological reports have no place.

          You’ve hit the nail on the head here. “Science needs results observers can agree upon”, which is precisely why science excludes how the observed phenomena appear to each individual observer, i.e. their observations will necessarily be different by virtue of their different subjective appearances. So, how can they “agree upon” what will always be different in important ways? They can only agree upon what will not be present to their individual consciousnesses, but rather exists in the observed phenomena itself. That was the basic and foundational move of modern science, and because of that move, the methodology of modern science cannot understand all of subjectivity.

          On the other hand “self-awareness” sounds like a purely formal idea to me. You can have it without ever having pain. You can have it without ever seeing brown. Etc.

          True. That’s why my focus during this discussion is not on self-awareness or self-consciousness per se, but rather on the felt quality of subjective experience, which is a part of self-awareness and self-consciousness.

          At the level of territory, everything is natural and material. That makes it “objective” in at least one sense.

          At the level of map, anything goes. There is no constraint against having concepts that are grasped only by self-reflection and not with outer-directed awareness.

          At the level of map, there will always be parts of the map that have no correlate in the territory, and there will always be parts of the territory that have no correlate in the map. If one claims that anything not present in the map cannot be present in the territory, then that claim cannot be supported solely on the basis of the map itself. That is because all maps necessarily exclude certain aspects of the territory. One would have to justify this claim with evidence other than the map, otherwise the claim itself is unsupported.

          Now, if your map necessarily excludes the qualitative and felt aspects of subjective appearances, then it simply cannot be used to guide you in this aspect of reality. In order to navigate in this part of reality, one requires a different map, i.e. one that includes these aspects of material reality. The map of modern science, especially modern physics, necessarily excludes the subjective in order to exclusively focus upon the objective, and thus is a poor and inadequate map to use to understand the subjective. So, I agree with you that we can have “concepts that are grasped only by self-reflection and not with outer-directed awareness”, but those concepts have no place in modern science, as it has been practiced since the Scientific Revolution. The way that science works must change in order to incorporate these aspects of reality. The map must be revised, or replaced with something else entirely.

          • Posted October 12, 2015 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

            @dguller,

            To answer your first Q, a subjective appearance is constituted by brain activity.

            What I mean is that the objective description will necessarily exclude certain real aspects of subjectivity.

            If by “exclude” you mean “not mention”, that’s true but innocent. If you mean “imply the denial of”, that’s false.

            Therefore, one cannot possibly understand those excluded aspects of subjectivity on the basis of any objective description.

            Vaal and I have been at pains to point this very fact out – and to point out that the materialist hypothesis predicts that this is so. (I take it that “understand A on the basis of B” involves some kind of conceptual implication from B to A.)

            However, if one agrees that the objective description only applies to part of the referent in question, then you’re fine.

            You’re flirting with map/territory confusion again. A map of Nebraska applies to all of Nebraska, even the parts it doesn’t show. It needn’t show any of the fish in the Platte, to materially imply (not conceptually imply!) an awful lot about the locations of the fish in the Platte.

            But that metaphor isn’t strong enough. So, suppose the map is annotated with X-ray photographs of the river. Your average Joe might not be able to make anything of it. But an expert can spot all the fish. Now the map (brain science) directly does show all the fish (qualia). But it takes an expert, one who independently learned to recognize fish in visible light, and to relate that to X-ray photos, to see it. The map is extensionally comprehensive, but still not conceptually transparent.

            “Science needs results observers can agree upon”, which is precisely why science excludes how the observed phenomena appear to each individual observer, i.e. their observations will necessarily be different by virtue of their different subjective appearances.

            No, your statements are way overblown. Subjective appearances vary in systematic ways depending on objective conditions. That’s why autopsychological reports are not inherently antiscientific. That’s how we know so much about pain. That’s why anesthesiology is a science.

            Yes, there are wide swaths of science where subjective appearances are nothing but nuisance. But then, there’s psychology.

            • dguller
              Posted October 13, 2015 at 10:42 am | Permalink

              Paul:

              To answer your first Q, a subjective appearance is constituted by brain activity.

              What do you mean by “constituted”? If X is constituted by Y, then is X ultimately reducible to Y? Or, is X identical to Y? Or, is Y a necessary and sufficient condition for X? Or, does an account of Y comprehensively and completely describe X? Or … what?

              If by “exclude” you mean “not mention”, that’s true but innocent. If you mean “imply the denial of”, that’s false.

              That’s all true, but it becomes false if you assume that all of reality can ultimately be reduced to the behavior of the fundamental particles and forces of modern physics, and that these phenomena are comprehensively described by the Standard Model. If you agree with this assumption, then the fact that X is not mentioned in the Standard Model, or that X cannot be derived from the Standard Model, would be sufficient to demonstrate that X does not exist. If you disagree with this assumption, then you recognize that there are phenomena that exist outside the purview of the Standard Model.

              Vaal and I have been at pains to point this very fact out – and to point out that the materialist hypothesis predicts that this is so. (I take it that “understand A on the basis of B” involves some kind of conceptual implication from B to A.)

              Is a hypothesis complete when it predicts its incompleteness? And what to do about the phenomena that the hypothesis admits it is simply incapable of understanding? One would have to go beyond the hypothesis itself and include other hypotheses.

              Remember what this entire discussion is about. I find the cosmological argument compelling enough to accept its conclusion. One of the premises of the argument is that any change from potentiality to actuality requires the presence of an agent to cause that change, and this is especially true of a per se causal series. There are two counter-arguments to this premise. First, the scientific models of radioactivity make no mention of a cause of the radioactivity, and therefore, there is no such cause. Second, Newtonian mechanics does not require an external cause to explain constant inertial motion. In either case, there is a scientific theory that purports to explain some phenomena, and because the theory does not mention or refer to any cause of the phenomena, then the conclusion is that such a cause simply does not exist.

              I only brought up subjective conscious experience as an example to demonstrate that the inherent and necessary absence of certain subjective phenomena from an objective scientific theory does not mean that such subjective phenomena do not exist. In order to show that such phenomena exist or do not exist would require information and theorizing outside of the objective scientific theory itself, because the theory itself is silent on the matter.

              Now, it seems that you (and Ben) agree that if a scientific theory does not mention X, then it does not follow that X does not exist. That’s great! Then you also agree that the two counter-arguments to the premise of the CA that I described cannot be refuted by either quantum mechanics or Newtonian mechanics. In order to do so, one would have to appeal to something other than them.

              • Posted October 13, 2015 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

                Now, it seems that you (and Ben) agree that if a scientific theory does not mention X, then it does not follow that X does not exist. That’s great! Then you also agree that the two counter-arguments to the premise of the CA that I described cannot be refuted by either quantum mechanics or Newtonian mechanics. In order to do so, one would have to appeal to something other than them.

                That’s not a very good characterization of how science works.

                Were I to take an inventory of the vertebrates in the room with me right now, it would include me and a certain cat. That’s all it would include.

                You might be able to make an argument that there could be a mouse hiding somewhere, though I have excellent reason to be confident there is none. Mice are not mentioned on my inventory, but it does not follow that there are no mice.

                But you could not make an argument that there could be a (living, full-grown) Blue Whale in the room with me. Blue whales are not mentioned on my inventory…but it does follow that there really aren’t any Blue Whales in the room.

                Positing the existence of particles more massive than the Higgs — particles which would have associated fields and forces — is akin to positing mice in the room with me, save, in that case, we do have good reason to suspect they’re probably there. The particles and fields and forces don’t manifest nor interact with everyday physics save outside of extreme environments like massive accelerators and even then lie beyond the limits of what we can detect today (but hopefully not tomorrow)…but, yeah, that sort of thing not only isn’t off limits but is entirely plausible and strongly suspected. In the analogy…you don’t see any mice, but you think you might smell them and the cat is yowling and pawing at the bookcase.

                In stark contrast, positing that there’s something we haven’t found yet that can interact with baryonic matter…that’s your Blue Whale in the room that you somehow haven’t yet managed to notice. And all of Aristotelian Metaphysics (and its more recent variants) proposes or describes or relies upon such we-know-it-ain’t-there phenomena.

                Again, if you don’t get this…re-re-re-reread Sean Carroll’s essay.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 13, 2015 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

                Ben:

                What you’re demanding isn’t an objective explanation of subjectivity. You’re demanding a subjective description of subjectivity.

                No. I’m asking for an objective explanation of S, such that S is fully understood simply by virtue of the objective explanation itself without any remainder. For example, the hardness of a table can be fully explained objectively such that there just isn’t anything else about the hardness of the table that requires explanation, i.e. there is no remainder. The same cannot possibly be said about S, when described in objective terms.

                The second can’t possibly be true, or else cognitive neuroscience, psychology, sociology, marketing, and an entire host of other disciplines wouldn’t exist.

                There’s a reason why they are called soft sciences. And none of them require the further claim that all of their facts necessarily can be reduced to the Standard Model.

                We really do know pretty much everything there is to know, objectively, about color.

                Emphasis mine.

                I can know everything there is to know about color from a particular framework — i.e. the objective framework — but it does not follow that I know everything there is to know about color, period, especially if that particular framework cannot possibly include certain necessary and essential aspects of color.

                You might be able to make an argument that there could be a mouse hiding somewhere, though I have excellent reason to be confident there is none. Mice are not mentioned on my inventory, but it does not follow that there are no mice.

                But don’t you see that if there was something, call it X, that your scientific objective methodology couldn’t possibly discover the truth about, then the fact that science couldn’t find X doesn’t mean that X doesn’t exist? You could always look for mice in the room, and not being able to find any would be a good reason to conclude that there are none in the room, because the method of looking for mice is something that could possibly discover mice in the room. But that won’t work for what exists beyond the capability of empirical science.

                And remember what this entire argument is about … again. It is about whether the current scientific model of radioactivity and Newtonian inertia are sufficient reason to conclude that the principle of causality (i.e. that any change from potentiality to actuality requires a causal agent) is false.

                I have been arguing that it is not sufficient reason to conclude that the principle of causality is false.

                The main reason is that the scientific theories themselves can themselves be interpreted to be consistent with the principle of causality by remembering that the theories are essentially incredibly useful maps of empirical reality, and a map, as has been pointed out ad nauseum here, is not the territory, meaning that there are always things in the territory that are not present in the map. Thus, it is certainly possible that there is a cause of the radioactivity, for example, that is simply not captured by quantum mechanics, and perhaps simply cannot show up in the theories of quantum mechanics themselves. Similarly, one can have the most detailed and comprehensive account of the neurobiology of the brain, including the various self-referential feedback loops and virtual models you would like, and yet that account will always exclude S from its description, because it is constitutionally unable to capture S at all.

                But another equally compelling reason is that the principle of causality is one of the presuppositions of science itself, much like logic and mathematics. Science simply couldn’t function without logic or mathematics or the principle of causality. If it were possible for truly uncaused events to occur, then it wouldn’t make any sense for there to be any order to the universe at all. If events could be uncaused, then it would be possible for a black hole to suddenly pop into existence in my room. How could you possibly argue that this couldn’t happen? Because it is inconsistent with everything we know of physics? So what? It was uncaused, and thus is not restricted by anything, including physics. Reality would be disordered with bizarre and impossible events occurring on a regular basis. What is to stop them from occurring, other than scientific laws, which have no influence upon uncaused events.

                So, uncaused events are simply impossible and incoherent. They would violate everything that we know about the universe. And if there are some phenomena that appear to have no causes, according to our current scientific theories, then the correct conclusion is that there must be a cause that is simply absent from the scientific theory in question. The alternative is too bizarre and incoherent to consider.

              • Posted October 14, 2015 at 12:15 am | Permalink

                I can know everything there is to know about color from a particular framework — i.e. the objective framework — but it does not follow that I know everything there is to know about color, period, especially if that particular framework cannot possibly include certain necessary and essential aspects of color.

                So, be specific: what, exactly, is it that you think cannot possibly be known about color?

                And I’ll go first.

                I could set up a demonstration for you, of three side-by-side samples of a uniform color…we’ll pick yellow because it’s easy for technical reasons. Three side-by-side uniform yellow panels. You’d agree with me that each is the same yellow, as would most people; within reasonable limits of human variation, all three are confirmed to be subjectively identical.

                And, yet, objectively, all three yellows would be radically different.

                One from a yellow LED would, through a spectroscope, appear as a single narrow band in the yellow part of the rainbow. Another, from perhaps a computer display or maybe a pair of red and green LEDs, would be two narrow bands in the red and green parts of the spectrum. A third would be a painted pigment lit by an incandescent light; in the spectroscope, it’d appear as the blue half of the rainbow dark and the red half bright, with a certain transition between the two.

                I can go way beyond that in my demonstration. I can take a spectroscopic measurement of the surface reflectivity of an object and an illuminant and predict exactly what color you will subjectively experience if you view the object in the light of that illuminant, without ever seeing it, myself — and I can show you perceptual matches to that on a computer display or a print. You can even make a random squiggly spectral plot and I can tell you exactly what color it would appear to you as if it could ever be physically realized — again, I could show you on the computer before you ever actually saw it, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference even though they would be radically different in a spectroscope.

                But wait! There’s more!

                I can take two colors such as the looks-the-same yellows but with minor variation…and tell you exactly how much difference between the two you’ll perceive. I could pick another pair of almost-identical colors, say a couple greens, and you’ll agree with me that the difference between the two yellows is the same amount of difference as between the two greens. I can take a photograph made under a novelty party blacklight and make it appear as it it had been photographed under noontime sunlight; I could make a photograph of an outdoors noontime scene look as if it had been photographed under moonlight. I can even take a photo of the Moon from the Earth’s surface and render the photograph as if you were looking at it from the ISS…not that the Moon is all that colorful, to be sure.

                So, I think it pretty safe to say that I really do objectively understand the subjective experience of color, about as well as anybody objectively understands pretty much any phenomenon. There’s still plenty I still need to learn, of course, lots much more to explore and play with and what-not…but the basics I’ve got down cold, and nothing new I learn is going to revolutionize any of the fundamentals. That spreadsheet I linked to really does contain almost all the answers to everything I’ve written about, with a couple minor footnotes here and there.

                If you think I don’t objectively understand the subjective experience of color, it’s up to you to explain exactly what it is I don’t and / or cannot know. And, frankly, I’m at a loss to even think of any hypotheticals that are any more sensible than the fact that neither of us have ever observed an individual neutron with our own eyes.

                You could always look for mice in the room, and not being able to find any would be a good reason to conclude that there are none in the room, because the method of looking for mice is something that could possibly discover mice in the room.

                I’ve already conceded that there could be mice.

                But you’re still insisting that, because there could be mice, there could also be a Blue Whale. No, there most emphatically cannot be any Blue Whales in the room, even if future searches do turn up some mice or even a rat. There are not now, never have been, and, I’m reasonably sure, never will be live full-grown adult Blue Whales in my living room, no matter the mice population.

                Can we at least agree on that much? That my living room is a Blue-Whale-free zone?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 13, 2015 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

                @dguller,

                I think you know well enough what “X is constituted by Y” means. It does imply that Y is sufficient for X. It’s compatible with Y also being necessary for X, in which case it is an identity. It certainly does not imply that there is a comprehensive and complete description of X in Y-terms. There isn’t a complete description of anything with continuously variable position, energy, etc.; even an infinite description (were that possible) would be merely countably infinite, and so still incomplete.

                If you disagree with [“these phenomena are comprehensively described by the Standard Model”], then you recognize that there are phenomena that exist outside the purview of the Standard Model.

                No. More map/territory confusion on your part. “Purview of the Standard Model” refers to some territory; “comprehensively described” refers (as you clarify elsewhere) to the concepts deployed in the maps. The fact that the Subjective Map and the Objective Map use different concepts, tells you nothing about the territory mapped.

                what to do about the phenomena that the hypothesis admits it is simply incapable of understanding?

                You need to keep straight which hypothesis you are talking about. The Standard Model doesn’t provide the full conceptual suite for understanding subjective experiences – but the Materialist Hypotheses (plural, because we’ll need one for each subjective aspect we can name) supply the missing ingredients. The latter get their support by being the simplest explanations for the repeated observations of, e.g., red visual experiences during certain activities in the visual cortex, etc. etc. And yes, I am saying that the Materialist Hypotheses are not already contained in the Standard Model. Hypotheses are in the map, mind you – so nothing follows about “beyond the purview” of the Standard Model.

                As for the causation of radioactive decay, the agent of change when a U-235 atom decays is that atom. And the agent of non-change when another U-235 atom doesn’t decay, is the latter atom. And there need be no difference between the two, beforehand. I also don’t see how you’d get a Cosmological Argument out of an “agent of change” principle. Once change is happening, something (time, at least) already exists.

                It is not necessary to refute the premises of the Cosmological, or any other, argument. If premises are gratuitous, the argument already fails.

              • dguller
                Posted October 14, 2015 at 9:13 am | Permalink

                Paul:

                I think you know well enough what “X is constituted by Y” means. It does imply that Y is sufficient for X. It’s compatible with Y also being necessary for X, in which case it is an identity. It certainly does not imply that there is a comprehensive and complete description of X in Y-terms. There isn’t a complete description of anything with continuously variable position, energy, etc.; even an infinite description (were that possible) would be merely countably infinite, and so still incomplete.

                I agree that X is constituted by Y iff X is necessary and sufficient for Y. I would also agree that there cannot be a “comprehensive and complete description of X in Y-terms”, but only if X and Y are different. You seem to claim that X and Y are one and the same thing, because “it is an identity”. Now, if X = Y, then it absolutely must be possible to provide a “comprehensive and complete description of X in Y-terms”, because every property of X must also be a property of Y, if they are identical. For example, when a scientist discovers that water is identical to H2O, it follows that there are no properties of water that aren’t also present in H2O, and vice versa. In that case, one can provide a “comprehensive and complete description” of water is H2O-terms. However, if water was not identical to H2O, then it would certainly make sense that such a description would be impossible.

                No. More map/territory confusion on your part. “Purview of the Standard Model” refers to some territory; “comprehensively described” refers (as you clarify elsewhere) to the concepts deployed in the maps. The fact that the Subjective Map and the Objective Map use different concepts, tells you nothing about the territory mapped.

                Again, you have to be clear about what ontological claim you are making, because that will affect the epistemology. There are a number of possibilities here:

                (A) S is identical to a physical state (= P)
                (B) S is reducible to P
                (C) S and P are different aspects of some other thing (= X)

                If (A) is true, then S must have to same properties and characteristics as P, which would mean that whatever concepts used to understand S must be translatable into the concepts of P, and vice versa. Clearly, this is impossible, and should be rejected.

                If (B) is true, then S is a higher-order phenomenon of P that either emerges from P or is supervenient upon P. But any reductionist position necessarily means that S is still ultimately describable in the concepts of P, even if this requires a very long-winded description that is wildly impractical and useless. In other words, the description of S would be nothing but a short-cut or heuristic to simply our lives, but in reality, the concepts of S would have to be translatable into the concepts of P. In other words, (B) is just a more sophisticated version of (A), and since (A) was impossible, then so is (B).

                If (C) is true, then S and P are different manifestations of X. Since S and P refer to different parts of X, they can have contradictory properties without any inconsistency in X itself. For example, a house can be red and blue, as long as the red and blue colors are on different parts of the house. So, in reality, there is X, and X is a composite entity that has different parts with different properties, some of which manifest as S and others which manifest as P. This actually seems to me to be the most plausible option.

                Which option do you prefer? Or, even better, do you have alternatives to (A), (B) or (C)?

                The Standard Model doesn’t provide the full conceptual suite for understanding subjective experiences – but the Materialist Hypotheses (plural, because we’ll need one for each subjective aspect we can name) supply the missing ingredients.

                First, answering whether your position is tantamount to (A), (B) or (C), or some alternative, would greatly help this discussion.

                Second, you will have to define what you mean by “materialism” before I can properly evaluate your claims. It is my understanding that materialism is the theory that all of reality is ultimately reducible and describable in the language of fundamental physics. In other words, everything that exists is, at bottom, nothing but the interactions of fundamental particles and the laws that govern their behavior.

                The latter get their support by being the simplest explanations for the repeated observations of, e.g., red visual experiences during certain activities in the visual cortex, etc. etc.

                All that one can conclude is that physical states are either (1) correlated to mental states, (2) cause mental states, or (3) identical to mental states. I agree that (3) would be the simplest option, because rather than two different states, i.e. mental and physical, one only has a single state that simultaneously is mental and physical, but the problem is that (3) is essentially option (A) above, and thus impossible, despite its simplicity. That leaves (1) and (2) above, both of which are consistent with my position, which is (C) above.

                And yes, I am saying that the Materialist Hypotheses are not already contained in the Standard Model. Hypotheses are in the map, mind you – so nothing follows about “beyond the purview” of the Standard Model.

                Again, this entirely depends upon your definition of “materialist”.

                As for the causation of radioactive decay, the agent of change when a U-235 atom decays is that atom. And the agent of non-change when another U-235 atom doesn’t decay, is the latter atom. And there need be no difference between the two, beforehand.

                But that’s just wrong. If a U-235 atom that decays is identical in every way to a U-235 atom that does not decay, when why does one decay and the other not decay at that particular time? I agree that part of the causal explanation of radioactive decay would be the nature of U-235, which would essentially be Aristotle’s formal cause, but that would not be sufficient to explain the radioactive decay in question. To claim otherwise would be to admit uncaused events into your theory, which I have argued above is incoherent. It is like discovering that your theory has a logical inconsistency within it. Once you admit an inconsistency, then the theory can explain anything at all. Similarly, the presence of uncaused events in a scientific theory obliterates its ability to account for the order and coherence we observe around us.

                I also don’t see how you’d get a Cosmological Argument out of an “agent of change” principle. Once change is happening, something (time, at least) already exists.

                That makes no difference. The CA works as well for an eternal universe as one that came into existence ex nihilo. In fact, time has nothing to do with the CA, as it applies at this very moment to explain what is happening right now.

              • Posted October 14, 2015 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

                @dguller,

                You need to pick one meaning for “complete description” and stick to it. Is it something which refers to every property in the territory? Or is it something which deploys every concept in someone’s map?

                With careful selection of physical phenomena, what you call (A), identity theory, will turn out to be true. For now we can only identify rough correlates.

                If [identity theory] is true, then S must have to same properties and characteristics as P,

                Yes.

                which would mean that whatever concepts used to understand S must be translatable into the concepts of P, and vice versa.

                No, that’s a big fat non sequitur. Conceptual translatability is about map:map relations. It is not required by territory:territory identity.

                This is the core problem with your argument. (And Chalmers’s.) You want to pull a territory:territory rabbit out of a map:map hat. Can’t be done.

                Of course, after you learn a scientific identity statement, like pain is [whatever neural activity it is, more science needed here], then you can reform your concepts, and get translatability. But obviously that’s not what you’re after; it’s too easy.

                If a U-235 atom that decays is identical in every way to a U-235 atom that does not decay, when why does one decay and the other not decay at that particular time?

                There is no why. There is a probability, which explains why in large numbers such events turn out roughly the way they do; but there is no why for the difference between two particular atoms.

                You can call that “uncaused” if you want, but I think it’s less confusing to talk about “probabilistic causation.” It doesn’t imply that anything goes. Also, it’s fine to ask for determinate causes, but the universe is under no obligation to deliver them.

              • dguller
                Posted October 14, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

                Ben:

                So, I think it pretty safe to say that I really do objectively understand the subjective experience of color, about as well as anybody objectively understands pretty much any phenomenon.

                Here’s the key caveat: “about as well as anybody objectively understands pretty much any phenomenon”. You may have the most detailed and thorough objective understanding of a subjective phenomenon that is humanly possible, and yet you will always necessarily exclude S from your understanding. Being able to predict my responses when asked questions about my color perception in a variety of settings is not the same thing as describing S. You can decry this is as unfair, because it sets the standard too high for any objective account of subjectivity, but unless you want to claim that S is unreal, then the only reasonable conclusion is that any objective account of subjectivity will be incomplete and fail to capture an essential aspect of subjective awareness, even if it captures everything else about subjectivity.

                If you think I don’t objectively understand the subjective experience of color, it’s up to you to explain exactly what it is I don’t and / or cannot know. And, frankly, I’m at a loss to even think of any hypotheticals that are any more sensible than the fact that neither of us have ever observed an individual neutron with our own eyes.

                I have no problem admitting that you understanding everything there is to know about the objective aspects of the subjective experience of color. But you have failed to describe, using strictly objective methods, S, which is the what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective.

                But you’re still insisting that, because there could be mice, there could also be a Blue Whale.

                No, I’m not. A blue whale, like a mouse, is something that empirical observation could discover using objective scientific methods. I am happy to affirm that if a thorough empirical inquiry into spatiotemporal entities in your room fails to identify a mouse or a whale, then there are no mice or whales in your room. What I’m saying is that something that objective scientific methods couldn’t possibly discover could be present in the room, even if objective scientific methods do not discover it.

              • Posted October 14, 2015 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

                S, which is the what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective.

                I’m sorry, but, at this point, I’m left with nothing but an objective observation that you’re simply not taking a rational objective approach to the subject.

                Your standards, if applied to anything else, must conclude that, for example, quarks are not real because I cannot provide you with what it is like to have a subjective felt experience of an individual quark. And so on for any and all other phenomena you might care to think of.

                As I believe I’ve already noted, you most emphatically are not asking for an objective account of subjective experience; you’re asking for a subjective account of subjective experience.

                Science doesn’t do what you’re asking. The arts do. And if your own subjective experiences and the various great works of art aren’t enough for you for the explanation you seek…then, I’m truly sorry, for yours must be a most painfully empty experience.

                b&

              • dguller
                Posted October 16, 2015 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                Paul:

                No, that’s a big fat non sequitur. Conceptual translatability is about map:map relations. It is not required by territory:territory identity.

                Say that you have two maps, M1 and M2, and each map corresponds to a particular territory, T1 and T2. If you claim that T1 = T2 (= T, for simplicity’s sake), then T1 and T2 have the exact same set of properties, because they are just different terms for T. Say that M1 and M2 are fundamentally different, meaning that there is simply no way that M1 can be reduced to M2, and vice versa, because the properties of M1 contradict the properties of M2. In other words, say that M1 includes the property P1, and M2 includes the property of P2, and it is true that P1 implies not-P2, and vice versa. Under that circumstance, it is incoherent to claim that T1 = T2.

                The question then becomes, how can you account for this?

                Well, that would depend upon T itself. If T is a composite entity that consists of different parts, then one can say that P1 in T1 corresponds to a property in one part of T, and P2 in T2 corresponds to a property in a different part of T. That would resolve the contradiction nicely, but it would also mean that the part of T that corresponds to P1 is different from the part of T that corresponds to P2. And that would be consistent with my scenario (C) above, and not (A).

                (It goes without saying that this analysis presupposes that both P1 and P2 each actually correspond to something in T. A different solution would be to argue that P1 (or P2) does not correspond to anything in T, and is simply an artifact of the map itself. That would be what eliminative materialism would argue, i.e. that S does not exist at all, and is simply an artifact of our folk psychological framework. I’m assuming that you reject such a position, but I could be wrong.)

                So, if our subjective map includes an inherent first-person perspective that cannot be shared with others, and our objective map includes an inherent third-person perspective that can be shared with others, then the referent of our subjective map cannot be identical to the referent of our objective map. Otherwise, that referent would have mutually exclusive properties – i.e. one and the same referent both can and cannot be shared with others, for example – which is impossible. That is precisely why no amount of objective scientific investigation will ever be able to reduce the former to the latter, and for the same reason that no amount of objective scientific investigation will ever be able to conclude that a square is really a circle.

                There is no why. There is a probability, which explains why in large numbers such events turn out roughly the way they do; but there is no why for the difference between two particular atoms.

                Probability does not explain “why” events turn out the way they do. They only describe patterns of events, given certain circumstances. For example, if a meteorologist predicts that there is a 60% chance of rain, given certain weather conditions, then what exactly has been explained? There is some relationship between the weather conditions and the rain, but there is no account for why it actually rained in that particular instance, which is precisely what we are interested in when looking into causation. Sure, the probability and statistics can give us a clue as to where to look for causes, but they cannot provide us with the causes themselves.

                You can call that “uncaused” if you want, but I think it’s less confusing to talk about “probabilistic causation.” It doesn’t imply that anything goes. Also, it’s fine to ask for determinate causes, but the universe is under no obligation to deliver them.

                But it does “imply that anything goes”. Why wouldn’t anything be possible, if it is possible for events to occur without any determining causes? The whole reason why certain events cannot occur is precisely because there are no causes for those events to occur. If you endorse the view that events can occur without causes, then you have eliminated any and all restrictions on reality, which means that we should observe a universe in chaos and disorder with elephants popping into existence in living rooms, and then vomiting up black holes.

              • Posted October 16, 2015 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

                So, if our subjective map includes an inherent first-person perspective that cannot be shared with others

                Woah — hold it right there.

                You mean you’ve never, in your entire life, seen something through somebody else’s eyes? Never felt a moment of empathy? Never experienced a work of art that made you feel as if you were somebody else, even for a bit?

                Probability does not explain “why” events turn out the way they do. They only describe patterns of events, given certain circumstances. For example, if a meteorologist predicts that there is a 60% chance of rain, given certain weather conditions, then what exactly has been explained?

                Probability falls out of math very easily.

                First, let’s forget weather predictions; very unnecessarily messy for our conversation, plus the way you expressed it, which is also the common way for even meteorologists to express it, is not what the prediction is actually stating. In the case of the weather, it’s not that there’s a 60% chance that it’ll rain; it’s that, in 60% of the recorded cases where the given measurements have been observed, rain has resulted.

                Consider not rain but a fair coin toss. On any given toss, there’s a 50% chance each for heads and tails. For any given pair of tosses, there’s a 25% chance for two heads, 25% chance for two tails, and a 50% chance for one of each. Keep expanding that and the bell curve naturally emerges. Conversely, flip the coin enough times and the chances that any particular pattern will emerge at least once increase…you’d be astounded if you picked up the coin and tossed it heads ten times in a row right off the bat, but you’d be equally astounded if you tossed the coin trillions of times and never once observed a sequence of ten heads in a row.

                Now, ask, “Why did the coin come up heads at such-and-such a sporting event,” and it becomes obvious that the question is meaningless. There’s no more why for that result than there is for any other result. Toss a coin, and it’s going to come up either heads or tails. Toss it enough times and the patterns naturally emerge.

                Radioisotope decay is just a variation on the coin toss. In any given period of time, essentially, so many dice with such-and-such a number of faces and this-and-that weighting will be thrown, and in a manner such that you can superbly reliably predict that half of the atoms will decay over a very precise amount of time. But you can no more predict when a particular atom is going to decay than you can predict a particular roll of the dice or toss of the coin or whatever.

                I’m not enough of a physicist to be able to explain the different decay rates of different radioisotopes, but I can tell you that a not-bad analogy for our purposes is that each atom is akin to a dice with a different number of sides, with one side marked to indicate that the atom decays. Different radioisotopes would be represented by dies of different numbers of sides; a radioisotope that decays rapidly might be a cube, but one that decays slowly might be a…<Googles />…snub dodecahedron (with 92 faces).

                But it does “imply that anything goes”. Why wouldn’t anything be possible, if it is possible for events to occur without any determining causes?

                Anything does go. It’s just that some “anythings” are more likely to happen than others, simply because there’re more instances of those “anythings” indistinguishable from others to pick from.

                I still don’t personally buy into the Quantum Many-Worlds Hypothesis, but it takes it further. It doesn’t just posit that anything can happen, but that everything happens, and that the “why” explanation is the anthropic one: you happen to observe what you do because there’s a copy of you observing every possible outcome, and there’s nothing special about the particular you that happens to be observing the outcome you’re observing. Again, not an interpretation I buy into, but it’s very popular amongst physicists and more than adequate to demonstrate the incoherence of your “Why?” protestations.

                b&

              • Posted October 18, 2015 at 8:54 am | Permalink

                @dguller,

                There is no contradiction between the maps. All that you’ve actually shown is that there are some ways-of-describing on Map1 that don’t appear on Map2. That’s a far cry from a contradiction. If one map says, “Paul’s favorite mountain is here” and the other just says “elevation 5272 ft”, that’s not a contradiction.

                So, if our subjective map includes an inherent first-person perspective that cannot be shared with others,

                Shared, as in communicated? Obviously it can be communicated (what Ben said, about art). Or shared, as in my pain being the exact same event as your pain? Why should that matter? There are lots of things I can’t share with you in that sense – like exact location, for example.

                They only describe patterns of events, given certain circumstances.

                Yeah you pretty much described all of science, right there. If that’s not enough to answer “why” questions in the sense of “why” you mean, let me just point out that other people often use “why” in a broader sense, a sense in which scientific explanations do provide a why. Although maybe on other occasions they use “why” in a narrower sense, like yours.

                Why wouldn’t anything be possible, if it is possible for events to occur without any determining causes?

                If there’s a 40% chance of tails, and a 60% chance of heads, that means there’s a 0% chance of edge. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

                Actually though, there is, technically, a non-zero chance for an elephant to pop into existence in your living room. Particle pair production, quantum tunneling, and all that. But the probability is so ridiculously tiny that the least misleading way you can think about it in real life is to call it zero.

              • Posted October 19, 2015 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vicarious_liability

                This is where some Computer Science comes in handy…the odds are 0 insofar as they can be represented in a 64-bit double precision floating point number. In fact, they’re probably still 0 insofar as they can be representing in a 128-bit quadruple-precision floating point number. Finding a practical application for numbers more precise than that is left as an exercise to the reader…

              • Posted October 19, 2015 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

                Woops…ignore the last post, serious cut-and-paste issues…we’ll try that again…

                “But the probability is so ridiculously tiny that the least misleading way you can think about it in real life is to call it zero.”

                This is where some Computer Science comes in handy…the odds are 0 insofar as they can be represented in a 64-bit double precision floating point number. In fact, they’re probably still 0 insofar as they can be representing in a 128-bit quadruple-precision floating point number. Finding a practical application for numbers more precise than that is left as an exercise to the reader…

              • dguller
                Posted October 16, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

                Ben:

                I’m sorry, but, at this point, I’m left with nothing but an objective observation that you’re simply not taking a rational objective approach to the subject.

                That’s because a “rational objective approach” simply fails to account for S.

                Your standards, if applied to anything else, must conclude that, for example, quarks are not real because I cannot provide you with what it is like to have a subjective felt experience of an individual quark. And so on for any and all other phenomena you might care to think of.

                No. For objective phenomena, your objective approach is perfectly adequate to a comprehensive understanding of that aspect of reality. However, for subjective phenomena, it will always come up short. A quark exists and behaves as it does independent of human subjectivity, although to discover quarks and their behavior necessarily passes through human subjectivity. We can abstract away human subjectivity when attempting to understand the objective behavior of quarks without losing the phenomena itself. However, this procedure will not work with certain aspects of human subjectivity, which cannot be abstracted away without eliminating them altogether.

                Science doesn’t do what you’re asking. The arts do. And if your own subjective experiences and the various great works of art aren’t enough for you for the explanation you seek…then, I’m truly sorry, for yours must be a most painfully empty experience.

                I never said that there was no way of knowing anything about subjective mental states, but only that an objective scientific investigation will always leave something essential out of its ultimate account, especially if that account is supposed to be reducible to the behavior of the fundamental particles of physics. Of course, the arts are illuminating about our human subjectivity, and in ways that science simply cannot match, but of course, they do not pretend to provide a thorough-going objective account of all of physical reality. Again, the issue is whether objective scientific investigations can account for the totality of subjectivity, including S.

                You mean you’ve never, in your entire life, seen something through somebody else’s eyes? Never felt a moment of empathy? Never experienced a work of art that made you feel as if you were somebody else, even for a bit?

                I’ve imagined what it might be like as if I were someone else, but it is always from my subjective point of view. And under the theory of psycho-physical identity, that would make sense, because your brain states are not the same as my brain states, and we could not possibly have the same subjective experience. Again, there are aspects of our mental lives that are irreducibly subjective that simply cannot even be described from an objective point of view, and thus would necessarily be excluded from any object account of reality.

                Now, ask, “Why did the coin come up heads at such-and-such a sporting event,” and it becomes obvious that the question is meaningless. There’s no more why for that result than there is for any other result. Toss a coin, and it’s going to come up either heads or tails. Toss it enough times and the patterns naturally emerge.

                How is the question meaningless? One is asking for the antecedent causal conditions that resulted in the coin coming up heads or tails. Are you saying that there is no immediate conjunction of causes that produced the result of the coin toss? A person tosses the coin from their hand using physical forces causing rotational motion, which is affected by air resistance, and other factors, and via that conjunction of forces, the coin eventually falls to the ground either heads or tails. There is clearly a set of causal antecedents that resulted in the effect, even if they are too complex and multifaceted to allow us any predictive accuracy, other than of the probabilistic variety.

                Just because a probabilistic estimate is the best that we can do, given the complexity involved, does not mean that there simply are no causes are that determine a particular effect. It certainly does not make such a question meaningless, unless from the standpoint of probabilistic statistics. But so what? From the standpoint of biochemistry, it makes no sense to ask whether a stock with increase in value after a corporate acquisition, but it doesn’t mean that there are other standpoints from which such a question would make perfect sense.

                But you can no more predict when a particular atom is going to decay than you can predict a particular roll of the dice or toss of the coin or whatever.

                Again, the fact that we cannot predict with precision when a particular effect will occur does not mean that there is no determinate cause for that effect. There is a huge difference between unpredictable and uncaused. The former is epistemological and the latter is ontological, for starters.

                Anything does go. It’s just that some “anythings” are more likely to happen than others, simply because there’re more instances of those “anythings” indistinguishable from others to pick from.

                And what about those examples where there are no instances to speak of? Are you saying that an elephant suddenly popping into existence does occur, but only rarely? I agree that your procedure applies perfectly well for instances that we observe and then determine the probability, but what about those instances that simply never occur?

              • Posted October 16, 2015 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

                I never said that there was no way of knowing anything about subjective mental states, but only that an objective scientific investigation will always leave something essential out of its ultimate account

                I’m afraid I really don’t get your point.

                We have objective accounts of subjective experience. We have subjective accounts of subjective experiences. Both are as thorough and complete as for any other phenomenon. No more is left out of either account than is for any other phenomenon we understand.

                Best I can tell, your entire objection boils down to the fact that science isn’t art and art isn’t science, which is one of those situations where the only suitable response is along the lines of, “Yes? So? And your point being…?”

                Are you saying that there is no immediate conjunction of causes that produced the result of the coin toss? A person tosses the coin from their hand using physical forces causing rotational motion, which is affected by air resistance, and other factors, and via that conjunction of forces, the coin eventually falls to the ground either heads or tails.

                You’ve listed some of the causes, but, to fully account for all the causes, you’d have to go all the way back to the Big Bang and out to the limits of our speed-of-light horizon. You would, for example, have to include the romantic feelings of the great-great-great-great grandparents of the person who signed the budget authorizing the purchase of the equipment used to mine the metals to make the coin in your inventory of causes for why the coin came up the face it did — without which said coin wouldn’t even have been in existence to toss in the first place. As such, it quickly becomes apparent that…

                …no, there really isn’t any immediate conjunction of causes that produced that particular result, unless you wish to consider the entire totality of existence as the one-and-only cause. It’s division by zero; there’re an infinite number of answers with equal claim to being valid, which tells us that the question itself is undefined.

                It’s also not how science works. Science doesn’t tell you what caused what; it tells you that, if you do such-and-such and if there’s nothing counteracting the effect of such-and-such, then this-and-that will result. If you step on the loud pedal in your car, then it will go forward — but only if the engine is running, the transmission is engaged, the brake is off, the car’s not jacked up, and so on. Ignore all those confounding factors and, yes, you can very reasonably state that stepping on the loud pedal will make the car move; it’s just that reality always has those confounding factors to deal with.

                Are you saying that an elephant suddenly popping into existence doesoccur, but only rarely?

                An elephant spontaneously manifesting from the quantum vacuum is, indeed, possible; it’s just that the odds of such are so low that even absurdities like multiplying all the time in the post-Big-Bang lifetime of the Universe by all the electron volts of energy in the Universe doesn’t even begin to get you into the ballpark of the numbers involved. Indeed, the odds of there being a fluctuation in the quantum vacuum that results in cosmogenesis of an Hubble Volume that is conducive to the eventual formation of the Earth and the evolution of elephants is so much more likely than the spontaneous manifestation of an elephant in proximity to humans that it’s no surprise at all that that’s where we get our elephants from.

                Cheers,

                b&

      • Vaal
        Posted October 11, 2015 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

        dguller,

        Thanks for that extended reply. Very nice!
        Unfortunately, though I feel I see the same problems in there as I originally raised, I doubt I’ll be able to get back to this thread in a timely manner.

        Take care.

        • Posted October 12, 2015 at 5:57 am | Permalink

          Vaal:

          Thanks for the productive discussion. And as a fellow Canadian, happy thanksgiving!

  48. dguller
    Posted October 19, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Ben:

    We have objective accounts of subjective experience. We have subjective accounts of subjective experiences. Both are as thorough and complete as for any other phenomenon. No more is left out of either account than is for any other phenomenon we understand.

    That’s partially correct. We have objective accounts of chemical interactions, and we have subjective accounts of chemical interactions. The former is all that one really needs to truly understand the nature of chemical interactions. The latter is not necessary to understand the nature of chemical interactions at all, and are only necessary to understand how we came to discover the objective nature of chemical interactions through our subjective interactions with the world.

    Matters are totally different when the issue is subjective experience. Yes, there is an objective account of some aspects of subjective experience, but that account necessarily excludes something essential about subjective experience itself. This is different from chemical interactions in which the objective account captures everything there is to know about chemical interactions. One does not require an account of human subjectivity to explain chemical interactions, but one does require one to account for subjective experiences.

    Best I can tell, your entire objection boils down to the fact that science isn’t art and art isn’t science, which is one of those situations where the only suitable response is along the lines of, “Yes? So? And your point being…?”

    It only matters if one believes that (1) science is the only way to understand everything about the world, and (2) ultimately, everything in the world is reducible – without remainder – to the interactions of the fundamental particles of modern physics. If you reject (1) and (2), as I do, then there is no problem. However, you would then be in disagreement with Coyne, who certainly endorses both (1) and (2).

    You’ve listed some of the causes, but, to fully account for all the causes, you’d have to go all the way back to the Big Bang and out to the limits of our speed-of-light horizon.

    That is true. Everything contributes over space and time to affect everything else that occurs in reality through the various interconnected causal networks within space-time. One can certainly specify which causal sequences one is interested in within that massive totality. For example, one can look at the causes that are simultaneous with the effect, or causes that are proximal to the effect, or those that are distant from the effect, and determine their relative contributions. Certainly, the closer one comes in the causal network to the effect, especially the simultaneous cause that occurs at roughly the same time as the effect, the closer one comes to identifying the necessary and sufficient cause, i.e. the cause without which the effect simply would not have occurred.

    An elephant spontaneously manifesting from the quantum vacuum is, indeed, possible

    But even if you are correct, it still doesn’t follow that such an event is uncaused. In fact, it seems caused by “the quantum vacuum” itself. Remember, the whole point of this entire discussion is whether an abstract and mathematical scientific theory that makes no reference to the cause of an observed effect necessarily means that there simply is no actual cause of that observed effect, i.e. whether the scientific theory is sufficiently comprehensive enough to describe all of reality.

    I claim that no scientific theory is comprehensive in this sense, and therefore cannot serve as the basis for the conclusion that there simply is no cause. Am I correct to conclude that you reject my claim?

    • Posted October 19, 2015 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      Remember, the whole point of this entire discussion is whether an abstract and mathematical scientific theory that makes no reference to the cause of an observed effect necessarily means that there simply is no actual cause of that observed effect, i.e. whether the scientific theory is sufficiently comprehensive enough to describe all of reality.

      I think you just finally hit on one of the key points in which you are having a disagreement with all of us over. I agree that the Standard Model, in fact any model with mathematical equations, is an abstraction. The math is describing the concrete, however I think one of the main points of contention is that there’s something more to the Universe that the particles in the Standard Model. And on that point, everyone readily agrees; there could be more (but it doesn’t matter). However, the actual particles interacting is not an abstraction of something more specific, it is referring to the actual things that are the building blocks of everything we observe on a macroscopic scale, including consciousness.

      The point is not whether it supplies a complete account of everything; the point is whether it provides a complete description of all the pieces necessary to provide a description of the world at human scales. There’s simply not a “something else” there to refer to, unless we have the entire basis of Physics wrong. This is what Sean Carroll is pointing out. It is a completely separate topic if we want to discuss a “complete account of everything” and it’s already been demonstrated that such a thing is impossible from within the Universe. There isn’t enough matter to successfully model everything and retain the information. However, this does not say that there’s some missing piece of consciousness interacting with matter as we know it.

      I’m completely open to something supplanting the Standard Model in a superior way to better describe subjective experience. But I still haven’t seen you supply a convincing reason why there needs to be something more in the concrete sense to explain consciousness. As far as all the evidence shows, consciousness, if explainable, can be explained by the particles that are referenced in the Standard Model. But this shouldn’t be construed as saying that Physics is going to give us breakthroughs in neuroscience anymore than it says it will give us breakthroughs in evolutionary biology. It should be construed as saying that we’re not going to find anything else material to what the answer ultimately is, if we ever find it.

      • Posted October 20, 2015 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        I’m completely open to something supplanting the Standard Model in a superior way to better describe subjective experience.

        No; that’s incoherent.

        Anything that comes after the Standard Model will reduce to the Standard Model at the scales at which the Standard Model applies.

        When Einstein came along with his flavors of Relativity, it was revolutionary, yes…but he didn’t overturn Newton. Even after Einstein, at human scales, the kinetic energy of an object is still equal to its mass times the square of its velocity. You can use Relativity to plot the trajectory of a thrown ball…and you’ll get the exact same answer as Newton would have given you, to as many significant figures as that measurement can be made.

        Were that not the case, we’d know that Relativity wasn’t a valid answer.

        The Standard Model isn’t just the math of the model itself. It’s a concise summary of a statement that every single observation ever made over a particular domain can be describe by that particular math. Not once has anything ever been observed at applicable scales that doesn’t fit within the Standard Model.

        At this point, claiming that the Standard Model isn’t the last word in physics at applicable scales is exactly equivalent to a claim that an apple might fall upwards off a tree.

        The Standard Model breaks down at some very extreme scales…but so does Newton. Accelerate that apple to a significant fraction of the speed of light and Newton won’t give you the right answer; apply the Standard Model to our current understanding of the Big Bang and you get answers that we know aren’t right. But apply either to what the apple will do when the stem breaks from the tree, and they’re a perfect match for what actually happens — and they’re a perfect match for every observation of every apple that’s ever fallen from a tree.

        …and, of course, that’s all ignoring the fact that we also have the basic outlines of the explanation for self-awareness already. (Hint: the name itself is the explanation.) There’s no need to invoke anything exotic for that answer; simply filling in the outlines is all we need at this point.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted October 20, 2015 at 11:52 am | Permalink

          No; that’s incoherent.

          Anything that comes after the Standard Model will reduce to the Standard Model at the scales at which the Standard Model applies.

          Clearly, the words I chose didn’t convey the meaning I wanted to convey. You just described exactly what I mean by something supplanting the Standard Model. Perhaps we make a discovery that gets us closer to that elusive Theory of Everything, and something at a lower scale gives us some kind of insight we can apply in other fields, such as studying consciousness. In all likelihood, however, I’d expect a better understanding of consciousness to come from macroscopic understanding of how conscious beings function, not basic descriptions at the level of the Standard Model (or lower). As far as methods that help us understand consciousness better than the Standard Model, those exist already (think Artificial Intelligence and other fields in Computer Science).

          • Posted October 20, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

            Perhaps we make a discovery that gets us closer to that elusive Theory of Everything, and something at a lower scale gives us some kind of insight we can apply in other fields, such as studying consciousness.

            No; consciousness is too many levels removed from the realm of cutting-edge physics for the physicists to have anything to add. Chemistry is pretty much as far as you need to go for consciousness. We can already be overwhelmingly confident that there aren’t any relevant “spooky” Quantum Mechanical phenomena involved in consciousness; brains are far to big, hot, and messy for such. At absolute most there might be some neurons here and there with marginally more energy-efficient signal transmissions than predicted without QM, but that’s it — and even that much would be very surprising at this point.

            Back to the baseball analogy…you don’t need exotic physics to explain a curve ball or a slider or some even wackier pitch. Newton is still just fine; the only big caveat is that the aerodynamics, which is entirely a subset of Newtonian Mechanics, is a bit complex. And minor variations in initial conditions get amplified by the end, so you wind up with some practical problems depending on how much you want to refine your measurements and predictions. But nothing any theoretical physicist is working on will have the slightest bearing whatsoever on the physics of baseball…

            …or of consciousness.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted October 20, 2015 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

              But nothing any theoretical physicist is working on will have the slightest bearing whatsoever on the physics of baseball…

              Not directly, sure. But Quantum Mechanics gave us insights about how to invent transistors and lasers. Something even deeper may give us different insights (about what I have no idea since these things aren’t yet discovered), but I do agree that the likelihood of guessing a specific area it helps us with may as well be 0, so I wouldn’t place a bet that it tells us anything about consciousness in particular, especially as we continue making inroads with methods far removed from particle Physics.

              More importantly, when it comes to the Physics of baseball, do you stand by your statement even if Deepak Chopra manages to develop a quantum curve ball? You’d have to admit that a batter would have a helluva a hard time hitting a pitch if it’s momentum and position can’t be determined simultaneously.

              • Posted October 20, 2015 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

                More importantly, when it comes to the Physics of baseball, do you stand by your statement even if Deepak Chopra manages to develop a quantum curve ball?

                Of course, if something like that were demonstrated, it’d be deserving of serious study and consideration. But it would also be right up there with an orchard where the apples fell up.

                New physics at this point isn’t going to lead to new technology, save in the roundabout way of having to invent new technology in order to probe new physics. Technology is always going to rest on Quantum or Relativistic Mechanics when the Newtonian flavor is insufficient, all of which are solved and settled. To get beyond them you have to go to energy domains so far removed from human scales that they’re simply irrelevant to anything you’ll ever personally experience.

                To put it in perspective…the Higgs has a mass about 133 times that of a proton; a single Higgs particle is as massive as a Cesium atom! It’s way beyond the realm of anything that could remotely be considered stable or useful in a technological application…you need the entire LHC just to manufacture a statistically detectable quantity of the stuff it decays into!

                That’s what’s at the heart of Sean Carroll’s observation that the laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood. There’s lots and lots of exciting new stuff to learn about how the Universe works, but none of it can even theoretically have any practical applications.

                And, Randy Johnson’s slider notwithstanding, Quantum Mechanics has absolutely nothing to say about baseball that Newton didn’t already say.

                b&

    • Posted October 20, 2015 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      But even if you are correct, it still doesn’t follow that such an event isuncaused. In fact, it seems caused by “the quantum vacuum” itself.

      The quantum vacuum is not an agent and has no causal or motive power. It’s, essentially, just a consequence of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which, itself, is simply a statistical observation.

      Flip a coin and a pattern of heads and tails appears. You can use statistics to describe the patterns that emerge, including the uncertainty of any given toss (that would be the bit about Heisenberg most are familiar with) and the overall shape of the statistics (that would be the subatomic particles and the like on up). But the statistics doesn’t cause any particular sequence to emerge. The sequence simply is, without cause.

      Your claim that the quantum vacuum somehow causes things is akin to positing an intelligent coin flipper who carefully selects the outcome of each toss and physically manipulates the trajectory of the coin.

      b&

      • dguller
        Posted October 21, 2015 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        Ben:

        Anything that comes after the Standard Model will reduce to the Standard Model at the scales at which the Standard Model applies.

        So, you endorse reductionism, meaning that all observable phenomena are ultimately to be explained solely according to the Standard Model. That means that any language of observable phenomena must also be able to be translated into the language of the Standard Model, even if that translation will be wildly complex and impractical.

        You confirm this point further when you write:

        Even after Einstein, at human scales, the kinetic energy of an object is still equal to its mass times the square of its velocity. You can use Relativity to plot the trajectory of a thrown ball…and you’ll get the exact same answer as Newton would have given you, to as many significant figures as that measurement can be made.

        So, one can deduce the principles of Newtonian mechanics from Einsteinian relativity, because one can get the same answer from either theory. Newtonian mechanics is just a sub-group of Einsteinian relativity, under certain conditions.

        Similarly, according to you, one should be able to deduce everything about human consciousness, including S, from the Standard Model in the same way that one can deduce Newtonian mechanics from Einsteinian relativity. After all, the Standard Model is the comprehensive model of observable reality, and thus human consciousness should just be a sub-group within the Standard Model, and ultimately describable exclusively in the language of the Standard Model.

        Not once has anything ever been observed at applicable scales that doesn’t fit within the Standard Model.

        Except that is the precise argument that many have made with respect to consciousness. There are aspects of consciousness that are impossible to account for solely on the basis of the Standard Model. The Standard Model is an objective scientific theory that describes phenomena that anyone under the right conditions can observe and verify. Consciousness is in a number of ways irreducibly subjective, meaning that some aspects of it can only be accessed by the first-person perspective. And no third-person description can fully describe a first-person perspective. There is always something that is left out of that description.

        and, of course, that’s all ignoring the fact that we also have the basic outlines of the explanation for self-awareness already. (Hint: the name itself is the explanation.) There’s no need to invoke anything exotic for that answer; simply filling in the outlines is all we need at this point.

        The problem is that more objective details will never conclude with an adequate description of the subjective first-person S of self-consciousness. You can have the most detailed and complex objective description of self-awareness that you like, but that description will always exclude S.

        The quantum vacuum is not an agent and has no causal or motive power. It’s, essentially, just a consequence of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which, itself, is simply a statistical observation.

        But the Uncertainty Principle is “a statistical observation” of something. That “something” is what is causing the observations that the Uncertainty Principle is describing.

        But the statistics doesn’t cause any particular sequence to emerge. The sequence simply is, without cause.

        And that is precisely where I think you go wildly wrong. Just because the statistics does not include any representation of the causes of the data points of the probabilistic pattern does not mean that such causes simply do not exist. The map is not the terrain, after all. In other words, there are likely a number of physical causes to account for the result of the coin toss, and those causes are simply not represented by the statistics, which his only interested in probabilistic distribution of the results.

        Seriously, just think about it. You toss a coin. The coin is propelled by the force of your fingers, and begins rotating through the air. The rotation is affected by the angular momentum, the resistance of the air, the gravitational pull of the earth, and a myriad of other factors affecting its motion. The conjunction of all those forces and energies ultimately causes the final effect, i.e. the coin lying on the ground in heads (or tails). This event is clearly not uncaused. Given the complexity of the multiple causal chains, it is impossible to accurately predict whether the coin toss will result in heads or tails, but that is an issue with predictability and not causality. You keep conflating the two.

        • Posted October 21, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          Seriously, just think about it. You toss a coin. The coin is propelled by the force of your fingers, and begins rotating through the air. The rotation is affected by the angular momentum, the resistance of the air, the gravitational pull of the earth, and a myriad of other factors affecting its motion.

          So?

          So don’t toss a coin; roll some dice, or deal some cards, or set up a random number generator, or count clicks from a geiger counter, or watch the bubbles in a lava lamp, or whatever.

          The statistics generated from all such sources is identical. As it is from any unbiased source.

          So long as there’s nothing biasing the source, you’re going to get the same statistical results. As such, the claim that the means that go into generating the results make a difference…clearly can’t be the case. The mechanism is so far removed from the results that it’s truly irrelevant.

          If you want to convince me otherwise…there’s a trivial experiment that you could do.

          Take a penny and a dime. Toss each some tens of thousands of times or more. Demonstrate that there’s a meaningfully statistical difference between the results generated that has something to do with the nature of the coins themselves. According to your theory, such a demonstration should be trivial. It would, of course, also be worthy of a Nobel….

          Cheers,

          b&

          • dguller
            Posted October 23, 2015 at 10:07 am | Permalink

            Ben:

            The statistics generated from all such sources is identical. As it is from any unbiased source.

            Yes, the statistical pattern is identical in multiple examples, but it does not follow that the final result is uncaused. To use an evolutionary example, there are examples of convergent evolution in which the same physical feature exists in distinct species with divergent ancestral lines, but it does not follow that those physical features are uncaused in the sense of having no causal antecedents sufficient to account for the features themselves. To use another evolutionary example, Mendel discovered the statistical laws of inherited traits, but it does not follow that those inherited traits were uncaused. In fact, they were caused by the inherited transmission of DNA from parent to offspring. In other words, just because a cause is not present in a statistical model does not mean that there is no such cause.

            The mechanism is so far removed from the results that it’s truly irrelevant.

            The mechanism of action might be irrelevant from the standpoint of probabilistic prediction of results, but it does not follow that there is no mechanism of action. There are a number of examples where a statistical model makes no mention of a mechanism of action, but there is a mechanism of action. That is sufficient to refute your position, and simply repeating the fact that the model is just so damned successful that it must also be comprehensive is simply fallacious. Indeed, your position seems to be that if a model is very successful at predicting the probability of an outcome, then anything not specifically present in the model itself simply does not exist in reality. Therefore, if a model does not include a cause for an outcome, then no such cause exists at all. That is ludicrous, to say the least.

            • Posted October 23, 2015 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

              Indeed, your position seems to be that if a model is very successful at predicting the probability of an outcome, then anything not specifically present in the model itself simply does not exist in reality. Therefore, if a model does not include a cause for an outcome, then no such cause exists at all. That is ludicrous, to say the least.

              You’re still missing the point.

              First, and most importantly, we know from statistical analysis that these phenomena are truly random. Even if you wish to posit some individual responsible for consciously deciding each and every individual result, we know that said individual’s conscious methodology is random. Imagine somebody picking up a coin, turning it over, and deciding whether to put it down as “heads” or “tails.” Any human doing so is going to inevitably have a non-random component to those choices that will stand out like a sore thumb in any statistical analysis. In stark contrast, actual coin tosses show no such patterning.

              In the case of coins, that tells us that there isn’t anything determining the coin’s outcome. Sure, you can trace various factors, such as air currents and the initial velocity and so on…but all those factors are so perfectly balanced that not a single one dominates. There truly isn’t anything that causes the coin to come up the one way or the other — again, unless you wish to consider the other side of the undefined function and declare that everything in all of existence equally contributes to the outcome.

              The other point you’re missing is that the actual medium of randomness is irrelevant. It’s the pattern that emerges from the aggregate of the medium we’re considering; all the individual bits and pieces don’t matter. As I noted in that previous post…flip a penny, flip a dime, deal cards, count decaying atoms…all are statistically identical. There really, truly isn’t anything causing the particular outcomes. But the aggregate of the outcomes themselves? That aggregate is inevitable and guaranteed to be a standard bell-curve distribution. You can make meaningful statements about the aggregate, but not about the individual elements.

              And how do we know that that last statement is true? Easy. Load the coin or the die or stack the deck or whatever, and there’s still no significance to the individual outcomes…but the aggregate statistics change. You still can’t claim that the loading is what caused a particular individual outcome (unless, of course, the loading is so extreme that it’s the only possible result). But you can attribute the loading to the shift in the statistics.

              Another way to look at it…is that you’re mistraking weather for climate. You’re claiming some significance to the fact that a particular drop of rain fell at a particular instant in a particular rainstorm; that’s complete nonsense. But you can attribute the increase in mean temperatures over the past decade to the corresponding increase in heat energy that resulted from the greenhouse effect caused by the increase in atmospheric CO2 from human activities mining and burning fossil fuels. But flip that around, and try to declare that a given mile somebody drove is responsible for that raindrop as opposed to the lump of coal somebody else tossed in a blacksmith’s forge…insanity!

              Cheers,

              b&

            • Posted October 23, 2015 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

              Indeed, your position seems to be that if a model is very successful at predicting the probability of an outcome, then anything not specifically present in the model itself simply does not exist in reality. Therefore, if a model does not include a cause for an outcome, then no such cause exists at all. That is ludicrous, to say the least.

              It occurs to me that there’s an even simpler way for me to make my point.

              If causality as you’re formulating it is such a real and readily-apparent phenomenon, you should be able to propose an experiment by which it can be unambiguously observed and identified. Something on the order of measuring the acceleration of gravity, something that could be done with no more technology than one might find in a typical school science lab.

              So, there’s your challenge. Propose such an experiment — something that will clearly and irrefutably identify either the sole cause of a particular phenomenon, or all the causes with their respective proportions, or whatever.

              Now, at this point, it should be instantly obvious that no such experiment can be done — for this email itself must be clearly included in the list of causes! Along, of course, with all the antecedent causes for the email, including my own birth….

              But perhaps I’m missing something, and you’ll come up with a proposal for some simple experiment I’ve overlooked that could somehow isolate or otherwise distill causality into something as real as gravity. “Good luck with that,” as the saying goes — but, at least, this should help clarify the parameters you’re operating under.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • dguller
                Posted October 24, 2015 at 11:17 am | Permalink

                Ben:

                First, and most importantly, we know from statistical analysis that these phenomena are truly random.

                Random, in the sense of unpredictable, but not random in the sense of uncaused.

                In the case of coins, that tells us that there isn’t anything determining the coin’s outcome

                True, there isn’t a single causal factor that decides the outcome.

                Sure, you can trace various factors, such as air currents and the initial velocity and so on…but all those factors are so perfectly balanced that not a single one dominates.

                A single one does not have to dominate anything in that case. Again, you are confusing our inability to decide, on the basis of a single causal factor, what the outcome will be with the claim that the outcome is uncaused altogether.

                There truly isn’t anything that causes the coin to come up the one way or the other — again, unless you wish to consider the other side of the undefined function and declare that everything in all of existence equally contributes to the outcome.

                I wouldn’t say that “everything in all of existence equally contributes to the outcome”. Sure, everything has some influence on the outcome, but that influence certainly isn’t equal. Again, none of this refutes the claim that the examples that you have cited have causes leading up to them. They do not exist in vacuum, and do not simply spring into existence ex nihilo.

                It’s the pattern that emerges from the aggregate of the medium we’re considering; all the individual bits and pieces don’t matter.

                When you are considering the abstract pattern, then yes, “the individual bits and pieces don’t matter”, but that is only when considering the abstraction itself. In reality, the “individual bits and pieces” do matter, because without them, the event in question would not have happened.

                all are statistically identical

                Statistical identity is not identical to real identity. Just because two different sets of observations have the same statistical pattern does not mean that the two sets of observations are identical in reality.

                You still can’t claim that the loading is what caused a particular individual outcome (unless, of course, the loading is so extreme that it’s the only possible result). But you can attribute the loading to the shift in the statistics.

                So, loading the dice is not what caused the deviation in the statistical pattern? Rather, the deviation in the statistical pattern caused the loading of the dice? Wow.

                You’re claiming some significance to the fact that a particular drop of rain fell at a particular instant in a particular rainstorm; that’s complete nonsense.

                The only significance is that that particular drop of rain was caused by a variety of spatio-temporal factors, and did not spring into existence ex nihilo.

                But you can attribute the increase in mean temperatures over the past decade to the corresponding increase in heat energy that resulted from the greenhouse effect caused by the increase in atmospheric CO2 from human activities mining and burning fossil fuels.

                Except that “human activities mining and burning fossil fuels” are made up of individual human beings mining and burning fossil fuels. You keep missing the trees for the forest when the forest is composed of the trees. No trees, no forest. And yet you keep wanting to talk about a forest and pretend that trees are simply irrelevant.

                So, there’s your challenge. Propose such an experiment — something that will clearly and irrefutably identify either the sole cause of a particular phenomenon, or all the causes with their respective proportions, or whatever.

                Okay. A man moulds clay with his hands into a particular shape. The man’s hands touching the clay is the per se cause of the clay assuming a particular shape. Without the man’s hands acting upon the clay at that moment, the clay would never have assumed the particular shape that it did. Furthermore, one can predict with utter certainty that the pressure of the man’s hands upon the clay will result in the particular shape that it did.

                Now, you can break this causal sequence down according to other simultaneous causes, such as the contradiction of the muscles, the firing of neurons, the chemical changes in the neurons, and so on. Indeed, there are a number of complex factors occurring simultaneously, and they are all involved in the causal explanation of the event in question.

                Certainly, one can go further back in space and time to look at other factors, but none of them are relevant to explaining why at this moment, the event in question is occurring. And it is precisely what is happening right now that is basis for the Cosmological Argument. So, looking back at the totality of events in space-time is certainly important to understanding the event in question, and I agree that from that perspective, everything is causally related to everything else, but that’s simply the wrong perspective from which to criticize the CA.

  49. dguller
    Posted October 19, 2015 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Paul:

    There is no contradiction between the maps. All that you’ve actually shown is that there are some ways-of-describing on Map1 that don’t appear on Map2. That’s a far cry from a contradiction. If one map says, “Paul’s favorite mountain is here” and the other just says “elevation 5272 ft”, that’s not a contradiction.

    No, what I’ve shown is that “there are some ways-of-describing on Map1” that cannot “appear on Map2”. There are subjective aspects of our experience (i.e. in M1) that are irreducibly first-person, which can only be experienced by the subject of the experience, and thus cannot appear in a third-person account (i.e. in M2), which can be experienced by someone not having that particular experience.

    Shared, as in communicated? Obviously it can be communicated (what Ben said, about art). Or shared, as in my pain being the exact same event as your pain? Why should that matter? There are lots of things I can’t share with you in that sense – like exact location, for example.

    Some aspects of it can be communicated, but other aspects of it cannot be communicated at all. They can be pointed towards and possibly experienced by someone else, but that other person’s experience will be their experience, and thus not the original experience of the original subject. Again, there is always going to be something missing about subjectivity from an objective and third-person account of it. And yes, there are a number of things that fit this category. I’m only focusing upon subjectivity as a specific example of this issue.

    If there’s a 40% chance of tails, and a 60% chance of heads, that means there’s a 0% chance of edge. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

    But none of that implies that there isn’t any cause for why this coin toss resulted in heads (or tails). And as I pointed out to Ben above, that is the main issue. A probabilistic model simply assumes that an effect is unpredictable, not that it is uncaused. Its causal antecedents simply do not show up in the model at all, but that doesn’t mean that they do not exist at all. The model is just that, a model, and thus is a fundamentally incomplete representation of an aspect of reality.

    • Posted October 19, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

      @dguller,

      You wrote to Ben:

      It only matters if one believes that (1) science is the only way to understand everything about the world, and (2) ultimately, everything in the world is reducible – without remainder – to the interactions of the fundamental particles of modern physics.

      Note, I accept (2) and reject (1). I reject (1) because understanding is in the map, and the territory can be mapped multiple ways without falsity.

      No, what I’ve shown is that “there are some ways-of-describing on Map1” that cannot “appear on Map2”.

      Fine; that’s still not a contradiction.

      But none of that implies that there isn’t any cause for why this coin toss resulted in heads

      I doesn’t imply the absence of such a determinate cause, but if we have an elegant theory that predicts probabilities, and no elegant way to work such determinate causes into the theory, then such causes will get shaved off by Occam’s Razor. And since QM is that elegant and that powerful, the only hope to make such determinism respectable is with Multiple Worlds Interpretation, or some such. (QM probabilities aren’t just a case by case estimate based on raw statistics, like in meteorology. They’re proportional to the square of the amplitude of the wave function. It’s almost like QM is trying to tell us, “here’s the fundamental causality in the world, and it’s pure probability.”)

      I haven’t got much to say for or against MWI; that’s above my pay grade. But I like the time-symmetric alternatives that philophysique mentions on Sean Carroll’s blog.

      • dguller
        Posted October 21, 2015 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        Paul:

        Note, I accept (2) and reject (1). I reject (1) because understanding is in the map, and the territory can be mapped multiple ways without falsity.

        You are correct that there can be a number of different ways in which a territory can be mapped. However, if the maps describe the exact same part of the territory in contradictory ways, then you have a problem. For example, if I describe a part of a tree as green, and another part of a tree as brown, then there is no contradiction. However, if I describe one and the same part of a tree as brown and green, then I have a contradiction that cannot possibly be true, and thus either one (or both) of the descriptions must be wrong.

        Same issue here.

        Say that you have a neuronal network N that is associated with S, which is what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective. N is an objective phenomenon that can be described in a third-person description. However, S cannot be described from the third-person perspective, because S is irreducibly subjective, and anything that is irreducibly subjective cannot be fully described from an objective standpoint, no matter how many objective details one brings to one’s account.

        Now, if you claim that N = S in the sense that N is S, it necessarily follows that the properties of N must be identical to the properties of S. One of the properties of N is that it can be described from an objective and third-person perspective, and one of the properties of M is that it cannot be described from an objective and third-person perspective. It necessarily follows from this that N cannot be identical to S.

        That is why S can never be described according to the language of N, or any purely objective framework of description, whether that description is of biology, chemistry or physics.

        Fine; that’s still not a contradiction.

        As I described above, there is a contradiction is M1 and M2 both purport to describe one and the same territory. If M1 corresponds to T1, which is one part of T, and M2 corresponds to T2, which is a different part of T, then you are correct that there is no contradiction. However, if M1 and M2 both correspond to T1 (or T2 or T), then there is a contradiction, if M1 and M2 describe one and the same referent with contradictory properties.

        I doesn’t imply the absence of such a determinate cause, but if we have an elegant theory that predicts probabilities, and no elegant way to work such determinate causes into the theory, then such causes will get shaved off by Occam’s Razor.

        Yes, you do not require causes in a theory that “predicts probabilities”, and in those theories, one can eliminate causes as unnecessary to predict probabilities. But that is the nature of probabilistic theories as inherently indeterministic, which does not necessarily correspond to the actual reality of the situation, because probability is more a matter of epistemology than ontology. In other words, just because we cannot precisely determine the outcome of a given situation by virtue of the limitations in our cognitive abilities and our theories of the world does not mean that, ontologically speaking, there are no causes that determine the outcome.

        One can look towards a coin toss as an example of a probabilistic theory that makes no mention of the causes of the outcome of a coin toss, and yet there clearly are a number of determining causes, i.e. the angular momentum, the air resistance, the force of gravity, and so on, all of which are affecting the coin’s motion that ultimately culminates in either heads or tails.

        • Posted October 22, 2015 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

          @dguller,

          There’s still no contradiction. Let’s semi-formalize what we know.

          Let m stand for a token map-notation and p for a property. Let R(m,p) mean that m refers to p. Let Np be a particular neuronal property, Nm be a map-notation for it that uses neuronal language, Sp be a particular subjective property, and Sm be a map-notation for Sp that uses subjective language. Let Nm* be the entire collection of neuronal-language notations.

          We agree on:
          R(Sm,Sp)
          R(Nm,Np)
          Nm =/= Sm
          for all m_i in Nm*, m_i =/= Sm

          All of the above is consistent with Sp = Np. And trivially also with R(Sm,Np) and R(Nm,Sp).

          Either you’re proposing Sp =/= Np as a premise, which is unacceptable, or you’re trying to collapse the distinction between Sp and Sm (subjective properties and their mappings/metacognitions), which is also unacceptable.

          because probability is more a matter of epistemology than ontology.

          Anyone who says that, I think, doesn’t get QM. In general, yes, probability is epistemic, but in the QM case, it’s more objective. Whether it’s the ontology of branching worlds driving our indexical uncertainty, or simply probabilistic transactions that actualize a particular possibility, is a matter of interpretation. But the wave function, from which QM probabilities are derived, is sufficiently elegant and explanatory to be telling us something about subatomic realities, and it seems unnecessarily complicated to reinterpret it as being just about the relation between those and us.

          • dguller
            Posted October 23, 2015 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

            Paul:

            Let m stand for a token map-notation and p for a property. Let R(m,p) mean that m refers to p. Let Np be a particular neuronal property, Nm be a map-notation for it that uses neuronal language, Sp be a particular subjective property, and Sm be a map-notation for Sp that uses subjective language. Let Nm* be the entire collection of neuronal-language notations.

            We agree on:

            R(Sm,Sp)
            R(Nm,Np)
            Nm =/= Sm
            for all m_i in Nm*, m_i =/= Sm

            All of the above is consistent with Sp = Np. And trivially also with R(Sm,Np) and R(Nm,Sp).

            The part that you are missing is that Sp is irreducibly subjective, meaning that it cannot be described in objective language, and Np is not irreducibly subjective, meaning that it can be described in objective language. If Sp = Np = X, then X cannot be described in objective language and X can be described in objective language, which is a contradiction. You analysis would work well if it were possible if Sp = Np, but that is not possible when Sp and Np are mutually exclusive, as they are under the above scenario.

            Anyone who says that, I think, doesn’t get QM. In general, yes, probability is epistemic, but in the QM case, it’s more objective.

            I don’t think so. QM is a mathematical formalism that is incredibly accurate at predicting the behavior of fundamental particles. What that formalism actually means in terms of ontology and epistemology requires further philosophical analysis, and cannot be determined from the formalism itself. That is why there are a number of different philosophical interpretations of QM, all of which are consistent with the formalism itself.

            Regardless, it remains false that if a probabilistic model of certain outcomes does not include a representation of the causes of those outcomes, then there simply are not such causes of those outcomes at all. The model can be accurate to the highest degree, but that doesn’t change the fact that the model is simply silent about whether the predicted outcomes have causes or not. Other factors will be more relevant to determine whether there are causes or not.

            • Posted October 23, 2015 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

              dguller,

              The part that you are missing is that Sp is irreducibly subjective, meaning that it cannot be described in objective language

              That’s just raw assertion. All you actually know is that Sm, our subjective map of subjective experience, is “irreducibly subjective” in that sense.

              On QM, if all you want is that possibly there is a deterministic cause hidden behind QM probabilities, heck, MWI will give you that. But I thought your line was that there had to be a cause of a particular event – for that, you will have to argue that MWI (or another deterministic interpretation) is not merely an open possibility, but true.

              • Posted October 23, 2015 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

                But I thought your line was that there had to be a cause of a particular event – for that, you will have to argue that MWI (or another deterministic interpretation) is not merely an open possibility, but true.

                That does dguller even fewer favors. In MWI, all outcomes present. The coin comes up both heads and tails; the universe branches at that point, and there’s one of you that sees the coin come up heads and another one of you that sees the coin come up tails. So, now what’s the cause that the copy of you who sees heads saw heads?

                I’m still not personally persuaded by MWI, but it sure makes hash of even the slightest pretense that Aristotelian notions of causality can even hypothetically apply.

                Even without MWI, causality in Quantum Mechanics is similarly irrelevantly incoherent. But it’s easily obvious how it’s incoherent, even to a lay audience, with MWI.

                b&

              • dguller
                Posted October 24, 2015 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

                Paul:

                That’s just raw assertion. All you actually know is that Sm, our subjective map of subjective experience, is “irreducibly subjective” in that sense.

                It’s not a raw assertion. It is a fact. No-one can know what it is like to be me without being me. The best that someone else can do is imagine what it is like for them to imagine being me, which is not the same thing as being me.

                That is precisely what I mean by irreducibly subjective, i.e. can only be known or experienced from the first-person perspective of a particular subject. So, in this case Sp is irreducibly subjective. It is irrelevant for my argument whether Sm is also irreducibly subjective, but I suspect that it is.

                All that matters is that Sp is irreducibly subjective and Np is not, which is sufficient to show that it is false that Sp = Np.

                On QM, if all you want is that possibly there is a deterministic cause hidden behind QM probabilities, heck, MWI will give you that. But I thought your line was that there had to be a cause of a particular event – for that, you will have to argue that MWI (or another deterministic interpretation) is not merely an open possibility, but true.

                My argument is that the QM formalism is silent about whether there are causes for the empirical outcomes that it describes. That is because any mathematical model necessarily excludes a multitude of empirical phenomena by virtue of its abstract nature. Therefore, just because X is excluded from the mathematical model does not necessarily mean that X does not exist. X might exist or not exist, but the mathematical model itself cannot decide the matter, because X may have been excluded from the model, because X does not exist or because X exists, but had to be excluded from the model by virtue of its abstract character.

                What this ultimately means is that QM cannot be a counter-example to the principle of causality, because QM itself is neutral regarding whether there are causes or not for the quantum phenomena that it describes.

              • Posted October 24, 2015 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

                Therefore, just because X is excluded from the mathematical model does not necessarily mean that X does not exist.

                This is an incorrect misformulation of the already-on-shaky-ground common objection about proving negatives.

                Take an inventory of your immediate surroundings. You will notice that there are no supermassive red giant stars in your inventory. And, because that is the case, it does necessarily mean that there are, in fact, no supermassive red giant stars in your immediate surroundings.

                It would be as impossible for you to miss a supermassive red giant in your vicinity as it would be for physicists to have missed the phenomena you’re insisting are real. Your proposed phenomenon really do not exist, any more than that supermassive red giant.

                b&

              • Posted October 25, 2015 at 12:45 am | Permalink

                It would be as impossible for you to miss a supermassive red giant in your vicinity as it would be for physicists to have missed the phenomena you’re insisting are real.

                Although I can’t agree on the importance dguller places on subjective experience, your assertion does not follow. It is just like saying love doesn’t exist because physicists can’t put it into a tidy equation. Besides, you ignore the obvious: even physicists will have to admit they haven’t missed that supermassive red giant called subjective experience.

              • Posted October 25, 2015 at 10:01 am | Permalink

                As I’ve already explained in great detail earlier in this thread, subjective experience is superbly well explained by science. I can create the same subjective experience of color for you using objectively radically different colors from the original, as well as predict what subjective experience you’ll have of a given color given an objective measurement of it.

                We have objective analyses of the subjective. And we have subjective descriptions of the subjective. But that’s not enough for dguller, for whatever reason.

                b&

              • Posted October 25, 2015 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

                As I’ve already explained in great detail earlier in this thread, subjective experience is superbly well explained by science.

                You’ve gone into great detail but, as I see it, you’ve wasted a lot of energy ignoring the problem. Nowhere did you show, for example, how we can convey “red” to a blind person. A spreadsheet doesn’t begin to do it. All he would get from that is a number range. But when I see redness I’m not seeing or experiencing numbers.

              • Posted October 25, 2015 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

                You’re again demanding, as dguller has, a subjective account of the subjective.

                The fact that a blind person has no subjective perception of, say, monochromatic red light with a wavelength of 700 nm is no more relevant than the fact that you yourself have no subjective perception of monochromatic infrared light with a wavelength of 1000 nm.

                Similarly, this chart is pretty much all you’re ever going to personally experience of the Higgs Boson:

                (Look for the little bump in the solid line centered above about 127 GeV.)

                So, does that spreadsheet “begin to do it” for you for the Higgs Boson? If so, then the spreadsheet here:

                http://www.cie.co.at/index.php/LEFTMENUE/index.php?i_ca_id=298

                should equivalently “begin to do it” for color perception.

                …but, if you’re going to reject the CIE spreadsheet for color perception, then you have to also reject the existence of the Higgs Boson on the same grounds.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted October 25, 2015 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

                The fact that a blind person has no subjective perception of, say, monochromatic red light with a wavelength of 700 nm is no more relevant than the fact that you yourself have no subjective perception of monochromatic infrared light with a wavelength of 1000 nm.

                You’re merely trying to deny the crux of the problem. And you’re doing it by carefully defining the problem as a straw man. Fact is we do not have a subjective visual experience of infrared light with a wavelength of 1000 nm. So it says nothing about light waves we do experience subjectively. You’re comparing apples with non-apples.

                Yes, I do reject your graph of Higgs Boson as an experience of Higgs Boson. You’ve provide an experience of a graph, that’s all. You’re going to have to define precisely what an experience of Higgs Boson feels like to a being that cannot possible feel anything like a Higgs Boson.

                Btw, I am not a dualist. I’m not arguing this to defeat materialism. I merely recognize a problem that we do not yet understand.

              • Posted October 25, 2015 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

                Yes, I do reject your graph of Higgs Boson as an experience of Higgs Boson.

                But you prove my point!

                Nobody thinks that you need to have a subjective experience of the Higgs Boson to know what it is and what it does and so on.

                So why should we need a subjective experience of subjectivity itself to know what it is and what it does and so on?

                b&

              • Posted October 26, 2015 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

                Nobody thinks that you need to have a subjective experience of the Higgs Boson to know what it is and what it does and so on.

                Human beings do not subjectively experience all of nature. So of course we cannot relate directly to knowledge we have no access to. We design instruments to help us out. But through our instruments and inventions we do not know what it feels like to “see” our way through the environment using sonar or magnetic waves like some animals do. Furthermore, even as humans we cannot know what it feels like to live another person’s life. I can read everything about World War II, but I will never know the experience of a concentration camp or D-Day unless I was there. We can relate some of the information to each other via our imperfect languages but in reality it’s all a shadow of the real thing. That’s the crux of the problem. Not all information is available to us. Dualists leverage this imperfection into a fundamental failure of materialism. But I see it only as a technical issue.

              • Posted October 26, 2015 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

                But through our instruments and inventions we do not know what it feels like to “see” our way through the environment using sonar or magnetic waves like some animals do.

                …yet that fact does not lead us to conclude that sonar and magnetism are some sort of magical incomprehensible phenomena we can’t possibly account for.

                That your experiences inside your skull are inaccessible to me directly as sonar similarly doesn’t make them magically incomprehensible. I can comprehend them just fine, and the fact that I don’t directly experience them is a red herring.

                b&

              • Posted October 27, 2015 at 9:36 am | Permalink

                “That your experiences inside your skull are inaccessible to me directly as sonar similarly doesn’t make them magically incomprehensible.”

                It depends how one defines incomprehensible, I suppose. We can comprehend them in a manner, but we can never comprehend them fully, at least not with our current technology.

                “…the fact that I don’t directly experience them is a red herring.”

                Try to remember what it was like to be an adolescent. If you were like all the rest of us, I’ll bet you had an interest in learning about sex. No matter how much you read about it, no matter how much sex ed class explained it, there was some fundamental piece of the puzzle missing. That lack of knowledge made me, as well and all of my peers, really want to perform an actual experiment which, from my POV, was expected to fill in quite a few missing details. And I wasn’t wrong.

                So I’ll ask you to put your theory to the test. Stand in front of a class of adolescents and tell them they can learn everything they’ll ever need to know about sex by reading books and watching videos. Tell them the actual thing is a mere “red herring.” It’s a radical way of teaching abstinence but I predict it will fail miserably.

              • Posted October 27, 2015 at 10:47 am | Permalink

                Stand in front of a class of adolescents and tell them they can learn everything they’ll ever need to know about sex by reading books and watching videos.

                Great idea!

                And, while I’m at it, I’ll tell them that there’s never a miscommunication about the tides; they go in and they go out, and you can’t explain that! And fucking magnets — how do they work!? Maybe I’ll even bring a jar of peanut butter for the class to watch to see if a banana-eating monkey spontaneously evolves out of it.

                It’ll be the bestest scientism class evah!

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted October 27, 2015 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

                Just don’t forget to apply for that Templeton grant!

              • Posted October 27, 2015 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

                I’m compelled to jump back into this, the longest running conversation I’ve seen on this site, and ask what the hell anyone means by, “You can’t know what it’s like to be me,” or as was brought up at some point, “We can’t know what it’s like to be a bat.”

                Let’s shove aside the implied dualism that these sort of semantics tend to characterize and ask what that actually means without incorporating real dualism.

                I’d be interested in what dguller thinks this means and for the hell of it, what Ben thinks this could mean as well. I contend that it’s utterly incoherent without implying some sort of dualism, if we take dualism to mean there’s either something more to the mind than matter, or something materially more to the human being than the matter and energy that is encapsulated within and described by the Standard Model. That is, if you take away the particles that make the human, there’s something leftover, an assertion for which we have exactly zero evidence.

                Without this sort of assumption, acting like I can be a bat makes as much sense as saying, “What if this light bulb was actually a tree?” Not only that, but we’d be asking what it would be like for that specific instance of a light bulb to be some specific instance of a tree. Generalized, we’re asking on a macroscopic scale what it’s like for A not to be A, which clearly violates the law of noncontradiction. As best we can tell, we all understand what it’s like to be someone else who stubs her toe, but we can never say I understand exactly your experience of stubbing your toe anymore than we can ask why the light bulb isn’t a tree or why no one lives at 91 degrees North Latitude. Simply wondering why an incoherent question can’t be answered doesn’t entail that there’s something more we’re missing.

              • Posted October 28, 2015 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

                I contend that it’s utterly incoherent without implying some sort of dualism,

                If it’s incoherent to say “You can’t know what it’s like to be me,” or “what it’s like to be a bat,” why are so many computer scientists working on aspects of that very problem? As far as I know they’re addressing the issues from a materialist POV.

                I’m no dualist yet the issue is coherent to me. I contend most people easily understand what it means to say only they know what it’s like to be them.

                Your examples of light bulb and tree are irrelevant. Light bulbs and trees don’t know anything. They have no sense organs to know anything. There’s no feeling of self there. You exclude the very thing that matters.

              • Posted October 27, 2015 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

                “Just don’t forget to apply for that Templeton grant!”

                Robots that know only spreadsheets and graphs and equations don’t care about grants.

              • Posted October 27, 2015 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

                How do you know, being that none of us can acruelly experience what it is to be the robot?

              • Posted October 27, 2015 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

                How do you know, being that none of us can acruelly experience what it is to be the robot?

                As a software engineer who has been very involved with computers for 40 years I’m very confidence robots want nothing. And actually, that’s the basis for my interest in subjects like this. Until we can “upload” the ability to have subjective experience I believe robots will never truly be intelligent, as in thinking creatively.

              • Posted October 27, 2015 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

                Obviously you’re more interested in rhetorical games.

              • Posted October 25, 2015 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                dguller,

                No-one can know what it is like to be me without being me.

                Knowing what it’s like is map. Feeling what it’s like is territory.

                And, not that anything hangs on it, but it is possible to know what it’s like for you to, say, stub your toe, without being you. All the knower needs is to be vulnerable to the same sort of experiences, and to have had it happen to her sometime, and to know in rough outline how the psychophysical causality works in such cases. The “it happened to her” part, is how the right sort of notation got onto her map.

                My argument is that the QM formalism is silent about whether there are causes

                Not silent – it might be better, or worse, for your claim of universal causality than that. Suppose, as many MWI advocates claim, that the QM formalism itself militates in favor of their view. Then the formalism militates in favor of QM outcomes having causes (of a really weird sort, but I’ll leave it to you vs. Ben, whether that could be any help to your theological arguments).

              • dguller
                Posted October 24, 2015 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

                Ben:

                Even without MWI, causality in Quantum Mechanics is similarly irrelevantly incoherent.

                But that is like saying that love in integral calculus is incoherent. Well, sure it’s incoherent from the abstract mathematical standpoint of integral calculus, but that doesn’t mean that love simply does not exist. You could make that argument only if you could demonstrate that integral calculus comprehensively covers all of reality, such that anything not represented in integral calculus simply does not exist in reality. Even you can see that such a position is hopelessly wrong. The same can be said for your argument that if X is incoherent from within the standpoint of QM, then X does not exist in reality.

              • Posted October 24, 2015 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

                But that is like saying that love in integral calculus is incoherent. Well, sure it’s incoherent from the abstract mathematical standpoint of integral calculus, but that doesn’t mean that love simply does not exist.

                No; that’s a complete non-sequitur. Might as well complain that you can’t derive sunsets from The Joy of Cooking and so therefore the Earth is flat.

                The same can be said for your argument that if X is incoherent from within the standpoint of QM, then X does not exist in reality.

                So where’s your experimental protocol to demonstrate causality as you’re defining it?

                Because, where we’re at right now, the Aristotelian causality you’re defending has never been demonstrated; is known to be utterly incompatible with physics; and can’t even be coherently defined.

                Offer up an experiment to observe it and we might be able to get somewhere…but, lacking that, your causality has no more bearing on reality than the Four Elements that were also integral parts of Aristotle’s metaphysics, or the common misconception of the day that the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter could be represented perfectly by a yet-to-be-discovered whole-number ratio.

                b&

              • dguller
                Posted October 26, 2015 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

                Ben:

                No; that’s a complete non-sequitur. Might as well complain that you can’t derive sunsets from The Joy of Cooking and so therefore the Earth is flat.

                No. It’s like concluding that because sunsets aren’t mentioned in The Joy of Cooking that sunsets do not exist.

                So where’s your experimental protocol to demonstrate causality as you’re defining it?

                There isn’t any, but that’s just because any experimental protocol itself presupposes causality in order to make sense at all. Furthermore, not everything requires an experimental protocol. For example, there is no experimental protocol to show that one ought to be good.

                Because, where we’re at right now, the Aristotelian causality you’re defending has never been demonstrated

                It is demonstrated any time anything happens.

                is known to be utterly incompatible with physics

                It is incompatible with certain interpretations of physics.

                and can’t even be coherently defined.

                Of course, it can. It just requires the coherence of actuality and potentiality. The principle of causality simply states that any transition from potentiality to actuality must be caused by something else in actuality. There is nothing incoherent in that definition at all. It might be false, of course, but what is false is also coherent. That which is incoherent is neither true nor false.

                This is an incorrect misformulation of the already-on-shaky-ground common objection about proving negatives.

                No, it is a simple truism that if X is absent from any incomplete model of reality, then it does not follow that X does not exist.

                It would be as impossible for you to miss a supermassive red giant in your vicinity as it would be for physicists to have missed the phenomena you’re insisting are real. Your proposed phenomenon really do not exist, any more than that supermassive red giant.

                Physicists would certainly miss such phenomena, if they were necessarily non-empirical in nature. Again, your position would only make sense if physics exhausted all of reality such that if X is not present or represented in physics, then X does not exist. You haven’t even come close to demonstrating this.

                subjective experience is superbly well explained by science

                Superby well explained by science” is not the same as “exhaustively and comprehensively explained by science”. I agree with the former, but not with the latter.

                We have objective analyses of the subjective. And we have subjective descriptions of the subjective. But that’s not enough for dguller, for whatever reason.

                It is not enough for me, because the “objective analyses of the subjective” miss important details about the subjective, such as S. As amazing as our objective understanding of subjective experiences is at this point in time, and as incredibly predictive of what people will see and describe when visual inputs are altered in a variety of ways, such an understanding always leaves out S, which is an essential part of any subjective experience. Once again, you keep making the transition from this theory explains a hell of a lot! to this theory explains everything!. I’m sure you can see the difference between the two.

                You’re again demanding, as dguller has, a subjective account of the subjective.

                No, he’s demanding, as I’ve been demanding, an objective account that includes everything about subjectivity without remainder. If you are saying that such an account is impossible, because it must always be supplemented by a “subjective account of the subjective”, then you’ve conceded the point. If you are saying that it is possible, then the burden is upon you to describe in entirely objective terms what it is like to have a subjective felt experience from the inside of the first-person perspective, which is what I have been calling S.

                So why should we need a subjective experience of subjectivity itself to know what it is and what it does and so on?

                Because S is an essential part of subjectivity, and thus must be accounted for in any explanation. The only way to access S is via the first-person perspective of a particular subject’s conscious experience. This is utterly unlike the Higgs boson, which is an utterly trivial point, as donjindra has been trying to explain to you. The Higgs boson is a thoroughly objective phenomenon with no essential subjective aspects at all, and thus is completely irrelevant to the point that he and I have been making. Human subjective consciousness is something different altogether, and thus cannot be understood on the same methodology that works so well for the Higgs boson.

              • Posted October 26, 2015 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

                There isn’t any, but that’s just because any experimental protocol itself presupposes causality in order to make sense at all.

                No; most emphatically, no.

                If you think science presupposes causality, you just simply do not understand science at all. Considering you explicitly reject science a few lines below, I’m quite comfortable with the conclusion that you don’t understand science.

                Science makes predictions about influences. If such-and-such conditions obtain, this-and-that tendency will manifest.

                Newtonian Mechanics is a perfect example. If no other forces are acting upon the apple, it will fall to the ground at an accelerating rate of about ten meters per second per second. But if other forces are acting upon the apple — such as the wind — then you have to add in the vectors of those forces if you want to more accurately model the apple’s trajectory.

                Notice what’s missing from all that?

                Causality.

                Gravity does not cause the apple to fall; gravity acts as but one one of potentially infinite forces upon the apple. Indeed, there are always other forces acting on the apple, even gravitational ones such as the direct pull and tidal shear from the Moon and the Sun and every other massive object in the entire Universe.

                Pick any other phenomenon you care to think of; the scientific explanation will be similar. This-and-that contributed to the outcome, and sometimes other contributing factors were negligible.

                But there’s never a cause anywhere to be found.

                No, it is a simple truism that if X is absent from any incomplete model of reality, then it does not follow that X does not exist.

                Yet another demonstration of profound ignorance of science — and basic logic, to boot.

                It is true that your current model of your surroundings — the room you are in — lacks any living, breathing, swimming, fully adult blue whales. And, therefore, it also follows that your surroundings are equally devoid of such.

                It is equally true that there simply do not exist any ways of interacting with baryonic matter not accounted for by the Standard Model, and claims that the Standard Model might be incomplete in such regards are every bit as absurd that you might have missed that blue whale when taking inventory of your surroundings.

                We know as surely as you know that there are no blue whales within a stone’s throw of you right now that consciousness, whatever it is (and we know what it is), interacts with its environment in ways perfectly described by the Standard Model. When your consciousness tells you to bang on your keyboard in response to me, that action is perfectly balanced by the garden-variety chemistry and physics of your consciousness.

                Physicists would certainly miss such phenomena, if they were necessarily non-empirical in nature.

                …and here you reject science outright — and spectacularly so. We’ve long since figured out that everything real is empirically demonstrable. Indeed, your own subjective experience of color is so painfully empirical that it can be described in its entirety by a single spreadsheet I’ve posted multiple times in this thread.

                Once again, you keep making the transition from this theory explains a hell of a lot! to this theory explains everything!

                Does your inventory of your surroundings include every microbe hiding in every crevice of the surface of the floor? No? Then it doesn’t include everything. But it includes far more than enough to tell you about the presence and / or absence of blue whales.

                No, he’s demanding, as I’ve been demanding, an objective account that includes everything about subjectivity without remainder.

                More anti-science nonsense. It is impossible, even in principle, to explain everything about anything without remainder. If that’s your standard, you reject all forms of thought ever — including the theological, incidentally, for the gods are well known to work in mysterious ways.

                The only way to access S is via the first-person perspective of a particular subject’s conscious experience.

                This is an expression of self-induced ignorance on your part, coupled with your confusion of demanding not an objective account of the subjective but a subjective account of the subjective and missing the bloody obvious fact that we’ve got both and in spades.

                You are, of course, free to reject science as you do here with as much passion as you work. But, nevertheless…it works. Bitches.

                b&

              • dguller
                Posted October 27, 2015 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

                Ben:

                If you think science presupposes causality, you just simply do not understand science at all.

                Well, one of us certainly does not understand science.

                Science makes predictions about influences. If such-and-such conditions obtain, this-and-that tendency will manifest.

                Its predictions are based upon cause-and-effect relationships, meaning that if certain causes are present (i.e. “such-and-such conditions obtain”), then certain effects will occur (i.e. “this-and-that tendency will manifest”). Its predictive power is solely the result of its ability to identify causal relationships in nature. Otherwise, why does “such-and-such conditions” result in the manifestation of “this-and-that tendency”? There must be something about the former that points towards the latter, and what is a cause if not such a “something”?

                Gravity does not cause the apple to fall; gravity acts as but one one of potentially infinite forces upon the apple. Indeed, there are always other forces acting on the apple, even gravitational ones such as the direct pull and tidal shear from the Moon and the Sun and every other massive object in the entire Universe.

                Newton himself considered forces to be causes of motion, which means that any force acting upon the apple would be considered to be a cause of the motion of the apple. Sure, there are a potentially infinite number of forces — and thus, causes — affecting the motion of the apple, but the vast majority of them will be insignificant and irrelevant.

                But there’s never a cause anywhere to be found.

                Actually, there are plenty of causes to be found. Any force is a cause of the motion of a body’s motion in space and time. Sure, you have to take other causes into consideration, but just because there isn’t a single determinate cause of a body’s motion does not mean that there are no causes at all to explain that body’s motion. It’s just that some causes have a miniscule impact upon the effect, and can be essentially ignored as irrelevant for the purposes of prediction. But it doesn’t follow that they do not exist.

                It is true that your current model of your surroundings — the room you are in — lacks any living, breathing, swimming, fully adult blue whales. And, therefore, it also follows that your surroundings are equally devoid of such.

                But my current model has excluded blue whales from my surroundings, because it has looked for them, and failed to find them, and since – in principle – I could observe blue whales, if they were in my surroundings, the fact that I have not observed them is sufficient to rule them out of my model. However, if my model could not possibly discover whether there were blue whales or not in my surroundings, then their absence from my model would not be sufficient to demonstrate their absence from reality.

                Your argument would only work if our physical theories were comprehensive and complete to describe the entirety of reality. But that is something that the theories themselves couldn’t demonstrate, and would require a philosophical justification outside of the theories themselves. In fact, that would require a metaphysical demonstration. If you could provide such a demonstration, then your point would be made. Until then, you are simply begging the question, which I’ve heard is not a solid argumentative strategy.

                And simply saying that the theories work really, really well to predict the behavior of objective empirical phenomena does not prove your point, because it begs the question about whether reality is exclusively composed of empirical phenomena. Maybe it is, but maybe it isn’t, and you would have to provide an argument that demonstrated that all of reality is empirical, such that anything non-empirical simply does not exist.

                …and here you reject science outright — and spectacularly so. We’ve long since figured out that everything real is empirically demonstrable.

                Now, you will have to define “empirically demonstrable”. Perhaps you mean perceivable by our senses? That would presumably include the extension of our senses with instruments of various kinds (e.g. microscopes, telescopes, etc.). But, ultimately, anything not traceable to our senses simply does not exist, which is in keeping with Hume’s “sense impressions”. Is this a fair account of your position? If not, then what exactly do you mean by “empirically demonstrable”?

                Indeed, your own subjective experience of color is so painfully empirical that it can be described in its entirety by a single spreadsheet I’ve posted multiple times in this thread.

                It is empirical, but it cannot “be described in its entirety by a single spreadsheet”. In fact, the S of color is missing from the spreadsheet altogether. So, unless you want to say that S does not exist, even though it is eminently empirical, and thus must exist, then your spreadsheet, although amazing in a number of ways, is simply incomplete.

                It is impossible, even in principle, to explain everything about anything without remainder.

                To quote yourself:

                “We really do know pretty much everything there is to know, objectively, about color.”

                “Indeed, your own subjective experience of color is so painfully empirical that it can be described in its entirety by a single spreadsheet I’ve posted multiple times in this thread.”

                If that’s your standard, you reject all forms of thought ever — including the theological, incidentally, for the gods are well known to work in mysterious ways.

                Well, you seem to share the same standard, based upon the quotations above. So … I’m confused.

                This is an expression of self-induced ignorance on your part, coupled with your confusion of demanding not an objective account of the subjective but a subjective account of the subjective and missing the bloody obvious fact that we’ve got both and in spades.

                Sigh. I agree that we have both an objective account of some aspects of subjective experience, and we have a subjective account of some aspects of subjective experience. The issue is whether an objective account is sufficient to describe all of subjective experience without remainder. For example, is your spreadsheet sufficient to allow someone who has never experienced a color in their lives, but understands how to use the spreadsheet to predict what other color experiencers will say and do under different settings, have a complete understanding of color? Of course not. The subjective experience of color is missing from their understanding, despite their thorough objective understanding.

                Now, you seem to agree that an objective account is not, in fact, sufficient to have a total understanding of subjective experience, and must be supplemented by a subjective account. And that is completely fine, unless you make the further claim that subjective experience is ultimately reducible to the behavior of the fundamental particles of physics. If you make that claim, then it must be possible to deduce all of subjective experience from the objective account of particle physics, which means that it must be possible for an objective account of subjective experience to be complete and comprehensive.

              • Posted October 27, 2015 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

                Jumping in on dguller’s causality discussion:

                predictions are based upon cause-and-effect relationships, meaning that if certain causes are present (i.e. “such-and-such conditions obtain”), then certain effects will occur (i.e. “this-and-that tendency will manifest”).

                Emphasis added. But QM doesn’t say that certain effects will happen, it says that they have a specific probability to happen. Now, if you want to say that QM is incomplete and there has to be a cause why this specific radium atom decayed just now – well by all means, make the argument. But that argument can’t be an appeal to the way science is actually done because most physicists are perfectly happy with mere probabilities.

  50. dguller
    Posted October 28, 2015 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Chris:

    ask what the hell anyone means by, “You can’t know what it’s like to be me,” or as was brought up at some point, “We can’t know what it’s like to be a bat.”

    The idea is that conscious experience is essentially from the first-person perspective, meaning from one subject’s particular point of view. This first-person point of view is accessible only by the subject themselves. That is why you cannot know what it is like to be me, other than as understood and imagined from your standpoint, but never from mine. My standpoint is mine, and mine alone, but you can certainly gain some insight into some aspects of my standpoint via your imaginative ability to put yourself in my shoes from your point of view.

    It is also true that from my point of view, there is a what it is like to have a conscious experience of some kind. For example, when I look at a blue object, I perceive the color blue as having a particular shade and aspect, which is what it is like to me. I do not know how the color blue appears to you, but only that you also have a subjective experience of the color blue as it appears to your mind from your particular point of view. As Ben has rightfully stated, there is quite a bit that we can understood from an objective standpoint about how the color blue appears to our minds, but there will always be a subjective element that is irreducible to an objective standpoint, because it is exclusively accessible to the subjective standpoint, which is why we will always need a subjective account of subjectivity, in addition to an objective account.

    I contend that it’s utterly incoherent without implying some sort of dualism, if we take dualism to mean there’s either something more to the mind than matter, or something materially more to the human being than the matter and energy that is encapsulated within and described by the Standard Model.

    I don’t think the above facts necessary commit someone to a dualist position, even though dualism is one way to account for them. One can endorse a Russellian neutral monism, Chalmers’ panpsychism, Aristotelian hylemorphism, or other positions, none of which is dualistic with regards to consciousness, and yet all will still agree with everything that I have written above. All that necessarily follows from the above account is that materialism in the sense that all of reality can ultimately be reduced to an objective account of the behavior of the fundamental particles of modern physics without remainder is false.

    As best we can tell, we all understand what it’s like to be someone else who stubs her toe, but we can never say I understand exactly your experience of stubbing your toe anymore than we can ask why the light bulb isn’t a tree or why no one lives at 91 degrees North Latitude. Simply wondering why an incoherent question can’t be answered doesn’t entail that there’s something more we’re missing.

    An unanswerable question is not an incoherent one. A light bulb is not a tree, because a light bulb is not alive, and a tree is alive, for example, which shows that such a question is certainly coherent. I can’t comment on your statement about latitude, because I don’t know anything about it. However, the point is that it is not incoherent to affirm that some aspects of subjective experience are irreducibly subjective, meaning that they can only be accessible and experienced via the first person perspective of a particular subject, and consist of what it is like for that subject to have the experience itself.

  51. dguller
    Posted October 28, 2015 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Paul:

    But QM doesn’t say that certain effects will happen, it says that they have a specific probability to happen. Now, if you want to say that QM is incomplete and there has to be a cause why this specific radium atom decayed just now – well by all means, make the argument. But that argument can’t be an appeal to the way science is actually done because most physicists are perfectly happy with mere probabilities.

    Most physicists don’t care enough to think about the philosophical implications of their mathematical models of reality. So, the fact that most of them take Feynman’s position of shutting up and calculating does not mean that their attitude is correct or appropriate. Probabilities may be good enough for most of what they do in their professional lives, but that does not mean that their interpretation of those probabilities is necessarily correct, if they have an interpretation at all.

    And my argument in this discussion involves a trivial fact. An incomplete model of reality necessarily misses certain aspects of reality, and it cannot be determined, solely on the basis of the model itself, whether (a) what is missing from the model still exists in reality, but is simply excluded from the model, or (b) what is missing from the model also does not exist in reality. In order to determine whether (a) or (b) is true requires going beyond the model and engaging in a philosophical and metaphysical discussion.

    One way to do so would be to demonstrate that one’s model of reality is actually complete, which means that (b) is true. However, in order to so, one cannot simply point to the success of the model in one particular domain of reality, and infer that it must work for every domain of reality. That is simply an illicit inference.

    Another way to do so would be to examine the underlying principles of the scientific process that produced the model of reality itself, and see if those principles demand that either (a) or (b) must be true. I’ve been arguing that science itself presupposes the principle of causality, and makes no sense without it. If one takes Hume’s position of discrete and utterly disconnected events that have probabilistic associations between them, such that the presence of one event increases the likelihood of another event, but there is no underlying causal relationship between them, then there is simply no reason for the probabilities at all. Furthermore, one is confusing ontological probabilities with epistemological probabilities. In other words, just because the best that we can do is to determine probabilities does not mean that there is no fact of the matter that we are simply ignorant of. Again, a metaphysical argument will have to be provided to justify the ontological over the epistemological interpretation of probabilities.

    Any thoughts?

    • Posted October 29, 2015 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      dguller,

      I think this thread is about to expire on us. Meanwhile, I’ll adopt your quoting-by-italicizing convention. The columns get too narrow for regular blockquotes.

      Probabilities may be good enough for most of what they do in their professional lives, but that does not mean that their interpretation of those probabilities is necessarily correct

      Please note that I never said it did. I just pointed out that if there’s any presupposing of causality going on, it sure is hard to locate in actual scientific practice.

      If one takes Hume’s position of discrete and utterly disconnected events that have probabilistic associations between them, such that the presence of one event increases the likelihood of another event, but there is no underlying causal relationship between them, then there is simply no reason for the probabilities at all.

      If there are probabilistic associations as a matter of physical law, then they aren’t utterly disconnected. I don’t know whether this counts as “causality” in your book – if it were up to me to define the word “causality” then it would count. But what you’ve said about radioactive decay makes me suspect you’d disagree.

      The reason for the probabilities is the Schrödinger equation; the reason why the equation holds is … well, perhaps there isn’t one. Reasons have to come to an end somewhere.

      Furthermore, one is confusing ontological probabilities with epistemological probabilities.

      I don’t think anyone is making that mistake. Rather, they are positing ontological probabilities, as arguably the best explanation of the evidence. Epistemic probabilities wouldn’t explain the evidence. Local hidden variables wouldn’t agree with the evidence. Nonlocal hidden variables seem like an extravagance, making for a poor explanation.


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