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Source: (consider it) Thread: Can morality have meaning in a materialist universe?
quetzalcoatl
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I don't know why it's a strawman. I genuinely don't know if theists say that there is a gulf between animal communication and human language, which cannot be explained via evolution.

By the way, I'm not an atheist.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
I genuinely don't know if theists say that there is a gulf between animal communication and human language, which cannot be explained via evolution.

By the way, I'm not an atheist.

I didn't think you were.

I'm sure some theists somewhere think almost anything you can think of. It's not really a meaningful question if you don't have any specific group of theists in mind. And it doesn't give a pleasant impression (especially if you throw around words like 'phlogiston').

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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Russ
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quote:
Originally posted by ChastMastr:
quote:
Originally posted by Russ:
there is no reason in principle why a mere arrangement of the atoms inside a computer should not give rise to a moral obligation.

Er... no, I didn't say that at all. Indeed, I believe that, if this thing we've never encountered, which we don't even know if it could happen at all, ever happens, then something would be at work beyond mere arrangement of the atoms
I'm suggesting that within a naturalist worldview, a sapient computer program - software that achieves personhood - if it can exist (and yes we don't know yet whether it's possible) could do so by mere complexity of interactions of matter. That a sapient program is just a simple program writ large, with perhaps some clever programming thrown in.

You seem to be suggesting that while that may appear true, what in fact happens is that when some threshold of complexity is reached, God steps in and bestows some supernatural grace upon the software to allow it to achieve that personhood (which would make it able to be both subject to and the object of moral obligations).

Is that what you're saying ?

If that were so, what would there in fact be any difference between your view and the naturalist one ? If God acts that predictably, is that not in effect another "law of nature" which can be incorporated as part of a scientific understanding ?

Your response - that we'd darn well better treat it like a person - wasn't conditional on whether there was anything in the software development process which might constitute a "gap" which could be attributed to a "God of the gaps".

Which is to your credit. Making moral treatment of sapient software, or animals, or slaves, or anything else, conditional on theological reasoning as to whether they have a soul, would be to greatly over-estimate the reliability of theology. Hot air does not justify treating another intelligent being badly.

Best wishes,

Russ

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Grokesx
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quote:
Do you have some ultra-Derridean objection to attributing quotations? Is it that you think everything is text and there's nothing outside text and therefore you don't do anything so metaphysical as attribute text to speakers?
Not really, it's just how the quotes come out when you don't do the bold ones which look a bit shouty to me. And I think people will recognise their own quotes, and anyway it's the content I'm responding to not the person.

And if I misunderstood your post, no problem. I don't understand many of them, or at least don't see the point of many.

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Grokesx
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Apologies for the double post. It'll be my last for a few days - off on my hols. Anyway:

quote:
And it doesn't give a pleasant impression (especially if you throw around words like 'phlogiston').
Quetz didn't. I did. He's pleasant. I'm not.

[ 31. August 2014, 23:08: Message edited by: Grokesx ]

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For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. H. L. Mencken

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quetzalcoatl
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No, no, I must protest, I'm not all that pleasant. I thought 'phlogiston' was a good joke.

[ 31. August 2014, 23:10: Message edited by: quetzalcoatl ]

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Grokesx
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There you go. Being pleasant. You can't help yourself.

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For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. H. L. Mencken

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quetzalcoatl
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Damn.

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LeRoc

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quote:
Dave Marshall: For a model that is compatible with the Christian tradition I think we need to allow for God to be more than creativity should additional attributes turn out to make sense.
Agreed. God > creativity then. Or God ⊃ creativity?

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I know why God made the rhinoceros, it's because He couldn't see the rhinoceros, so He made the rhinoceros to be able to see it. (Clarice Lispector)

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ChastMastr
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I'm back now. (Pinkie Pie voice: Hi!!!!!) More coherent than I was becoming, I hope, though I should mention that I actually meant every bit of that thing I posted, so, yes, Shipmates who don't remember me from before, I really am that weird. I do often describe myself as an Anglo-Catholic with a dash of Shinto for a reason, after all.

quote:
Originally posted by Grokesx:
We do interact with the input. With our senses. ... That relationship is where meaning lies. Going to higher levels of complexity it gets more complicated, of course, but the principle is the same.

Isn't that pretty much saying the same thing I'm saying: That in a materialist universe, the notion of "meaning" as anything more than merely very complex response-stimuli based on matter and energy and physics is basically meaningless?

quote:
Originally posted by itsarumdo:
You are conflating personal beliefs with science

Science says - we work within the limits of what can be proven, but that may not include everything that exists. Sciencism (the religion of science) says - if science cannot go there, it doesn't exist.

The two are very different statements. The first recognises that there are some areas that will never be open to the scientific method. The second assumes that the scientific method - in fact, more or less Aristotle's system of investigation - is a definition of what does or does not exist. The excluded middle (True/False and no other possibility) applied dogmatically leaves all scientific work open to the possibility that the wrong question may have been asked, or the right question with the wrong a priori assumptions.

I wholly concur, as some do
With all said here by itsarumdo


quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
I don't know whether some theists are saying that there is an unbridgeable gulf between animal communication and morality, and the human equivalents

Just another quick reminder, that I mysulf
Do not believe in such an unbridgeable gulf
(O Koko, together for Robin we grieve
But all shall be well, at least I believe


quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
quote:
Originally posted by Grokesx:
[qb]
quote:


Do you have some ultra-Derridean objection to attributing quotations? Is it that you think everything is text and there's nothing outside text and therefore you don't do anything so metaphysical as attribute text to speakers?
Call it a hunch, but I think it's a glitch
With UBB, and that's the whole sitch
(O Derrida! He makes me thkweam¹
A man of nightmare, not of dweam)


quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
Grokesk acknowledged as much, although he misunderstood my point, and therefore evaded having to concede it.

[Frown] He may have just disagreed, you know... [Frown]

quote:
Even the most Cartesian dualist
I'm not a massive fan of DeCartes either, just as a side note. I think he not only got some things wrong but catastrophically wrong in ways that are still with us. Such as this (trigger warning for some of the things he did to animals described in text). God have mercy on his soul. I hope he has learned better now, and that he will be forgiven by all of the creatures whom he and those who followed his philosophy tormented.

quote:
[qb]I don't know whether this 'I don't know whether some' formulation is simply a passive-aggressive way of imputing a straw man. But it does give that impression.
Well, to be fair, I have encountered theists who think in that Cartesian way about humans vs. animals, but honestly they seem to be more on the Fundamentalist end of the spectrum.

quote:
Originally posted by Russ:
[QB] I'm suggesting that within a naturalist worldview, a sapient computer program - software that achieves personhood - if it can exist (and yes we don't know yet whether it's possible) could do so by mere complexity of interactions of matter. That a sapient program is just a simple program writ large, with perhaps some clever programming thrown in.

You seem to be suggesting that while that may appear true

I think it may be rather critical to point out, as you mention above, that we don't know that such a thing is even possible...

quote:
what in fact happens is that when some threshold of complexity is reached, God steps in and
... and therefore, I'm not making any statement at all about what God's conditions for--again, if something like this ever happens, which it hasn't and we don't know that it ever will--bestowing sapience or a soul or ... what have you on a human-created object.

Heck, I encountered such a being, for all I know, it could even be a Tsukumogami or something.

quote:
Is that what you're saying ?
Nope! [Smile]

quote:
Which is to your credit. Making moral treatment of sapient software, or animals, or slaves, or anything else, conditional on theological reasoning as to whether they have a soul, would be to greatly over-estimate the reliability of theology. Hot air does not justify treating another intelligent being badly.
Amen. I'd even go further and say that it doesn't justify certain bad treatments of non-intelligent beings. I believe we are permitted to eat animals, and to use them in various ways, but that there are still limits to what we can do to Brother Ox and Sister Hen.

It could also be argued--and I am inclined to this position--that to deliberately bring a sapient computer program into the world would be at best extremely morally imprudent, like creating a child from scratch (with who knows what defects) just to see what will happen.

quote:
Originally posted by Grokesx:
Not really, it's just how the quotes come out when you don't do the bold ones which look a bit shouty to me. And I think people will recognise their own quotes, and anyway it's the content I'm responding to not the person.

And if I misunderstood your post, no problem. I don't understand many of them, or at least don't see the point of many.

Actually, I get confused about whose quote is whose myself, though I try to quote the person with their name first, and then keep quoting them till the next new array of quotes come by. People may recognize their own quotes but then be confused pages later about whose position is whose.

I try to respond to both the content and the person, myself.

quote:
Originally posted by Grokesx:
Apologies for the double post. It'll be my last for a few days - off on my hols.

Have fun! Is "hols" a student/university thing or holidays in the UK in general? I've only encountered the term in the Narnia books.

quote:
He's pleasant. I'm not.
Well, we can always improve, of course.

quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
I thought 'phlogiston' was a good joke.

There's some cool stuff about phlogiston in Alan Moore's Tom Strong series.

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¹ I told you I'd find a place to use it
But I shall try not to abuse it


[ 01. September 2014, 02:51: Message edited by: ChastMastr ]

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My essays on comics continuity: http://chastmastr.tumblr.com/tagged/continuity

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ChastMastr
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quote:
Originally posted by ChastMastr:
Heck, I encountered such a being, for all I know, it could even be a Tsukumogami or something.

If!!!! If I encountered such a being. [brick wall] I have not (thus far) knowingly done so. [Hot and Hormonal]

It is my own fault, not that of a ghost
For any glitches in that post


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My essays on comics continuity: http://chastmastr.tumblr.com/tagged/continuity

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Dave Marshall

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quote:
Originally posted by LeRoc:
God > creativity then. Or God ⊃ creativity?

I'd hesitate to go with either. The "extension" I'm thinking of has to do with God being the first cause of the universe rather than the act/process of causing, if that makes sense. It may be that's an artificial distinction, but it seems significant and necessary.

[ 01. September 2014, 09:30: Message edited by: Dave Marshall ]

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Russ
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quote:
Originally posted by ChastMastr:
I'm not making any statement at all about what God's conditions for.. ..bestowing sapience or a soul or ... what have you on a human-created object.

So you reject naturalistic explanations for the development of personhood (and thus moral sense), because you can't see how it could work.

In favour of an "explanation" that you understand so little about that you can't say anything much about it all ?

Why is "I can't see how that could work" a valid reason for rejection of the concept in one case but not the other ?

In my lifetime, computer software has got much better at playing chess. (Much faster than I have... [Frown] ) So I'm disinclined to rule out the possibility that other accomplishments may be within its grasp.

Do you know what we mean by "God of the gaps" ? And why that approach to religion isn't a good idea ?

Best wishes,

Russ

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Wish everyone well; the enemy is not people, the enemy is wrong ideas

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ChastMastr
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quote:
Originally posted by Russ:
quote:
Originally posted by ChastMastr:
I'm not making any statement at all about what God's conditions for.. ..bestowing sapience or a soul or ... what have you on a human-created object.

So you reject naturalistic explanations for the development of personhood (and thus moral sense), because you can't see how it could work.
That's not what I said. What I said was above. Remember, we're talking about "what if a computer became a person somehow?" If a computer becomes a person someday, which we don't know will ever happen. We're not saying, "Here, meet our mechanical friend HAL/Marvin/Vision/Reddy/Pinocchio/Data/C-3P0/Warlock. He shows all the signs of genuine personhood, but he was built rather than born. How do you think he metaphysically came to be?" We're saying, "What if someone like that existed, and we had to figure out how?" So far, they don't. (Don't get me wrong, part of me thinks it would be really cool, but part of me thinks that it might not be cool for the person created that way. If a mistake in genetic engineering--with God knows how many mistakes and missteps in between which might be simply killed and thrown away [Frown] --could lead, because of dicking around with things, to a sapient being who turns out to be blind, with Down's syndrome, in constant pain--no, that kind of risk would be too much to play around with. And so, too, with making a computer into a person. I would not want to be someone's experiment. "You mean I didn't have to be born like this? You just wanted to see if you could make something cool?" I don't even agree with some of the things that are being done to real, non-sapient animals...)

quote:
Why is "I can't see how that could work" a valid reason for rejection of the concept in one case but not the other ?
I think you keep thinking I am saying things that are not. [Confused]

quote:
In my lifetime, computer software has got much better at playing chess. (Much faster than I have... [Frown] ) So I'm disinclined to rule out the possibility that other accomplishments may be within its grasp.
I would honestly say that playing chess and the like is vastly different, not in degree, but in kind, than anything like personhood. Again, this is one of those "essence" things, and so back to "meaning" and oh God I think we're going to wind up in circles again. [Frown]

quote:
Do you know what we mean by "God of the gaps" ?

Of course, thilly! It means that Jesus shops at the Gap!

. . .

(crickets chirp)

. . .

Well, I thought it was funny. [Hot and Hormonal]

Yes, I do.

quote:
And why that approach to religion isn't a good idea ?
Well, duh. I mean, yes, and that isn't my approach to it.

Again, this is not a scientific thing. This is a philosophical/metaphysical thing. It's perhaps even an ontological thing. It's not about things that can be measured by the sciences at all. It's its own thing.

My own answer to the thread title is "No, by definition, morality can't have meaning in a materialist universe." I would even go further and say, and I know we will disagree about this but thus far nothing here has convinced me otherwise, that by definition there can't be meaning in a materialist universe, because meaning is one of those abstract metaphysical things. You literally start winding up with the ontological nature of is-ness right away.

I hate the fact that we (that is, me and everyone I'm disagreeing with here) seem to be going around in circles, and I really want to figure out how to bridge this gap (oh God gaps again LOL) (Hello, gaps! How are you? It seems like we just chatted a paragraph ago. Would you like some tea?). But ... somehow it doesn't seem to be happening.

I'm sorry. [Frown]

[ 02. September 2014, 03:29: Message edited by: ChastMastr ]

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My essays on comics continuity: http://chastmastr.tumblr.com/tagged/continuity

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quetzalcoatl
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ChastMatr

It just looks to me that you are saying that the brain cannot generate abstract thought. If it does, then metaphysics could be said to be a part of that abstract thinking.

But your main argument for this, seems to be incredulity - I just can't see how it happens.

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LeRoc

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quote:
Dave Marshall: I'd hesitate to go with either. The "extension" I'm thinking of has to do with God being the first cause of the universe rather than the act/process of causing, if that makes sense. It may be that's an artificial distinction, but it seems significant and necessary.
I admit to having been a bit tongue-in-cheek when I included God in an expression with mathematical symbols. In fact, I thin I'd prefer to keep it at a rather vague "God = creativity and more". I'm not very enamoured with first cause arguments.

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I know why God made the rhinoceros, it's because He couldn't see the rhinoceros, so He made the rhinoceros to be able to see it. (Clarice Lispector)

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ChastMastr
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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:

It just looks to me that you are saying that the brain cannot generate abstract thought. If it does, then metaphysics could be said to be a part of that abstract thinking.

But if it is merely generated by the brain, and not an actual perception of genuine metaphysical truths, then it would be basically an illusion, or so it seems to me.

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My essays on comics continuity: http://chastmastr.tumblr.com/tagged/continuity

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lilBuddha
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Genuine. Metaphysical. Truths.
This is a genuine problem with this debate. Those with a philosophy which includes the metaphysical are not letting go of it enough to grasp the entire argument. Or IMO, anyway.

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Hallellou, hallellou

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Russ
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quote:
Originally posted by ChastMastr:
I would honestly say that playing chess and the like is vastly different, not in degree, but in kind, than anything like personhood. Again, this is one of those "essence" things, and so back to "meaning" ...

quote:
Do you know what we mean by "God of the gaps" ? And why that approach to religion isn't a good idea ?
Well, duh. I mean, yes, and that isn't my approach to it.

I hate the fact that we (that is, me and everyone I'm disagreeing with here) seem to be going around in circles, and I really want to figure out how to bridge this gap

Yes, your good-natured frustration is reciprocated.

Can you say why you think this isn't a "God of the gaps" issue ? 'Cos it seems a classic one to me. We understand a bit about how atoms and molecules work, about the various creatures on the earth, about our neighbours, and about the different cultures around the globe. But we're a bit hazy about how these fields of knowledge tie up. There's a gap between chemistry and biology, where complex molecules don't seem to quite explain simple life forms. A gap between the biology of the brain and the simplest forms of psychological stimulus-response behaviour. A gap between the cognitive accomplishments of animals and human abstract reasoning. And a gap between individual thoughts/behaviour and the sociology of cultures and institutions. Those seem to me some of the biggest gaps - you may come up with others.

When we can't see a scientific answer, we tend to fall back on pre-scientific ways of thinking. So there's a temptation to attribute to God a particular, special, active involvement in things like
- life and death (the difference between a living creature and a lump of dead meat)
- consciousness (as when someone emerges from a coma)
which correspond to those gaps. As opposed to His general background involvement in things we think we understand and can predict pretty well, like gravity, or chemical reactions, or supply and demand in the economy.

And that's a philosophical error. That reduces God to a label for what we don't understand, so that our perception of His sphere of activity shrinks as our knowledge increases.

And that error seems precisely what you're saying here. We don't know how the sort of abstract reasoning and self-awareness which so far we've only seen humans do (despite advances in software and various studies with chimps) relates to simpler forms of cognition. So we're tempted to "explain" by positing an activity of God that inserts a nonmaterial soul. Without which morality and other aspects of self-aware reflective thought are impossible.

Seems like that's what you're arguing for. And that you're arguing for it precisely because it's a gap in human understanding of the cosmos.

With that backdrop, can we follow up on your idea of what a materialist universe is ? It contains matter and energy, yes. What about information ? Does it contain writing - symbols by which people communicate ideas, combinations of symbols that are culturally associated with meanings ? Or is it a universe without people ? Or one in which people never evolved beyond the intelligence level of cats ?

If you start from atoms and work up, what's the first gap that you think can't be bridged without violating the assumption of a materialist universe ?

Best wishes,

Russ

--------------------
Wish everyone well; the enemy is not people, the enemy is wrong ideas

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LeRoc

Famous Dutch pirate
# 3216

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To me, the gap lies between the physical and the mental. I can accept (with hesitation) that molecules can form life. I can accept that they can form processes that solve problems.

But there is an 'I', a whole mental inner universe that can't be explained by this. Even if with every thought we have we can exactly point at the synapse that is firing (I don't think we'll be able to do that, but for argument's sake), this still doesn't explain this inner world.

Some people will say (and have said on this forum) "Science will solve this eventually", but that is a belief statement. Equally so, 'emergentism' is a heap of mumbo-jumbo to me, trying to hide away that we really don't know.

If this is a gap, then it's a pretty big gap. Science hasn't begun to make a first step here, it wouldn't even know where to start.

So, if people can put their belief statements in this gap, I can put my own belief statements about God in there.

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I know why God made the rhinoceros, it's because He couldn't see the rhinoceros, so He made the rhinoceros to be able to see it. (Clarice Lispector)

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quetzalcoatl
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# 16740

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Yet surely neurology is making headway in its research into cognition, for example, areas like memory, language, attention, learning, emotions, moral decisions.

I mean, they are beginning to map out the 'neurocircuitry' of such aspects of cognition.

One obvious line of research is looking into brain damage, and what effects this can have on various cognitive functions.

Another is the ways in which infants gradually acquire ability in these areas, and also develop 'inner space'.

Of course, one basic problem is explaining how patterns of neurons produce mental activity, and it's possible that there is some fundamental gap here, which cannot be solved.

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quetzalcoatl
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# 16740

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quote:
Originally posted by ChastMastr:
quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:

It just looks to me that you are saying that the brain cannot generate abstract thought. If it does, then metaphysics could be said to be a part of that abstract thinking.

But if it is merely generated by the brain, and not an actual perception of genuine metaphysical truths, then it would be basically an illusion, or so it seems to me.
Hello, I see we have another 'merely' cropping up!

Now I don't really understand what you mean by an illusion. Are you saying that if an experience is generated in the brain, it is not real? But aren't all experiences generated there? I'm using my brain to write this sentence - so is it an illusion?

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by LeRoc:
But there is an 'I', a whole mental inner universe that can't be explained by this. Even if with every thought we have we can exactly point at the synapse that is firing (I don't think we'll be able to do that, but for argument's sake), this still doesn't explain this inner world.

I don't actually see that dualism helps here. If we can't see how to understand how inner world and consciousness result from material mechanisms I don't see how they can result from non-material mechanism either. It seems to me that it's the analysis of processes using mechanist metaphors, rather than the materialism, that causes the problems here.

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quote:
Originally posted by lilBuddha:
This is a genuine problem with this debate. Those with a philosophy which includes the metaphysical are not letting go of it enough to grasp the entire argument.

Materialism is a metaphysical position. 'Matter' is a metaphysical entity. Indeed, the further assertion that the only real qualities are primary qualities is a metaphysical position. The argument isn't between a metaphysical position and an empiricist position. It's between two (at least) different metaphysical positions.

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LeRoc

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quote:
quetzalcoatl: Of course, one basic problem is explaining how patterns of neurons produce mental activity, and it's possible that there is some fundamental gap here, which cannot be solved.
Exactly. We can map neurons all we want (and we should), but this doesn't explain where this 'inner space' comes from.

quote:
Dafyd: I don't actually see that dualism helps here.
I didn't say that dualism helps here.

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quetzalcoatl
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quote:
Originally posted by LeRoc:
quote:
quetzalcoatl: Of course, one basic problem is explaining how patterns of neurons produce mental activity, and it's possible that there is some fundamental gap here, which cannot be solved.
Exactly. We can map neurons all we want (and we should), but this doesn't explain where this 'inner space' comes from.

quote:
Dafyd: I don't actually see that dualism helps here.
I didn't say that dualism helps here.

On the other hand, if you were unfortunate enough to have a stroke, or a bad car crash, involving head injuries, you might find that your mental activity is severely compromised.

But also that there are skilled people available, who will attempt to repair your brain, and consequently, your mental faculties.

Alzheimer's is another obvious example, where brain deterioration can lead to cognitive deterioration, even the collapse of personality, where very little seems to have meaning.

Just remembered a vivid example: I had a client who woke up one morning and couldn't remember who she was - very frightening. Obviously, they got immediate medical help, and things got better.

[ 03. September 2014, 10:10: Message edited by: quetzalcoatl ]

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LeRoc

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quote:
quetzalcoatl: On the other hand, if you were unfortunate enough to have a stroke, or a bad car crash, involving head injuries, you might find that your mental activity is severely compromised.

But also that there are skilled people available, who will attempt to repair your brain, and consequently, your mental faculties.

Alzheimer's is another obvious example, where brain deterioration can lead to cognitive deterioration, even the collapse of personality, where very little seems to have meaning.

Of course. I don't deny that there is a link between the brain and our 'inner space'. But this doesn't explain where this inner space comes from.

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quetzalcoatl
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This reminds me of Nagel's famous article, 'What is it like to be a bat?', in which he argues that we might find out a huge amount about bats, but that would not tell us what it is like to be one.

He really gets under the skin of other atheists, I think.

I'm probably repeating myself here, no doubt mild brain deterioration.

Forgot - the Nagel article is online somewhere.

[ 03. September 2014, 10:34: Message edited by: quetzalcoatl ]

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LeRoc

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quote:
quetzalcoatl: This reminds me of Nagel's famous article, 'What is it like to be a bat?', in which he argues that we might find out a huge amount about bats, but that would not tell us what it is like to be one.
Yes, that's a nice way to put it.

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quetzalcoatl
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It's also interesting that quite a lot of the people talking about the 'hard problem' of consciousness, such as Nagel and David Chalmers (roadie look-alike), are atheists, but not materialists. Also, Colin McGinn, one of the foremost new mysterians.

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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
Materialism is a metaphysical position. 'Matter' is a metaphysical entity. Indeed, the further assertion that the only real qualities are primary qualities is a metaphysical position. The argument isn't between a metaphysical position and an empiricist position. It's between two (at least) different metaphysical positions.

[Overused] [Overused] [Overused]

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quetzalcoatl
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I was thinking again about my client who woke up one morning, and couldn't remember who she was.

The interesting thing about it (in retrospect; at the time, she was terrified, and her family also), is that no-one thought it was a metaphysical or philosophical problem, but a neurological one. As in fact, it turned out to be, a mild stroke, which unlike some severe ones, could be completely cured.

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ChastMastr
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quote:
Originally posted by Russ:
When we can't see a scientific answer, we tend to fall back on pre-scientific ways of thinking. s

I'm rather tempted to respond with the old joke about Tonto and the Lone Ranger: "What do you mean 'we,' Paleface?" [Biased]

As well, "pre-scientific" implies a pretty big array of assumptions--as does "fall back on." The truth of a notion, or of a way of thinking, isn't determined by when it was conceived.

But, again, the sciences don't deal with the metaphysical issues. This is a philosophical matter.

quote:
And that's a philosophical error. That reduces God to a label for what we don't understand, so that our perception of His sphere of activity shrinks as our knowledge increases.

And that error seems precisely what you're saying here.

I'm sorry, but it's not. What I'm saying, I mean.

quote:
We don't know how the sort of abstract reasoning and self-awareness which so far we've only seen humans do (despite advances in software and various studies with chimps) relates to simpler forms of cognition.
It's not a matter of complexity or simplicity at all. It's a matter of essence. Not of degree, but of kind.

quote:
With that backdrop, can we follow up on your idea of what a materialist universe is ? It contains matter and energy, yes. What about information ? Does it contain writing - symbols by which people communicate ideas, combinations of symbols that are culturally associated with meanings ? Or is it a universe without people ? Or one in which people never evolved beyond the intelligence level of cats ?
The notion of a materialist universe, as I understand it, would be one in which the notion of "people" --but really this would include all notions--is meaningless.

quote:
If you start from atoms and work up, what's the first gap that you think can't be bridged without violating the assumption of a materialist universe ?

As was pointed out by LeRoc, I think, it would be the existence of an "I" to start with in the first place. All of the notions of a materialist or a supernatural universe kind of fall apart at that point if there is no real "I" and no metaphysical truths (including, if it were so, of materialism) to be apprehended by that "I." And no, I am not talking about any kind of increasing complexity of neurons or cultural memes or anything like that--I'm talking about something so philosophically primal that all of human knowledge, whether of atoms or neurons or anything else, hangs on it. If there is no real meaning--if it is "nothing but" atoms--then there is no reason to believe in atoms in the first place. Nor would there be anyone to believe in it.

I appreciate this discussion--I haven't thought about some of this very much in the last few years, though it's certainly what I have believed for a very long time--but if anything, I'm afraid it's actually re-clarified the certainty of my own position to me. I'm sorry we seem to be unable to bridge the gap, but I think we're at a philosophical first-principle-based impasse here.

[ 03. September 2014, 18:06: Message edited by: ChastMastr ]

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
Now I don't really understand what you mean by an illusion. Are you saying that if an experience is generated in the brain, it is not real? But aren't all experiences generated there? I'm using my brain to write this sentence - so is it an illusion?

If experiences were generated in the brain we would be unable to communicate. Indeed, we would probably be unable to remember whether one experience was or wasn't the same experience as an earlier experience. (See Wittgenstein, private language argument.)
Experience must be linked in some regular way to something that is re-identifiable and outside our brain in order for it to be remembered or thought about it or otherwise made use of.

You are of course using your brain to write your post. But your fingers and your keyboard and computer screen are heavily involved. (Have you ever had the experience of composing some brilliant passage of argument in your head, sitting down to transcribe it, and finding it is not nearly so compelling or easy to compose when you write or type it out?)

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Russ
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quote:
Originally posted by ChastMastr:
quote:
Originally posted by Russ:
a philosophical error. That reduces God to a label for what we don't understand, so that our perception of His sphere of activity shrinks as our knowledge increases.

And that error seems precisely what you're saying here.

I'm sorry, but it's not. What I'm saying, I mean.

Where does what you're saying differ ?

You wouldn't be saying it if there were a material cause-and-effect that you understood. "I can't see how..." is the starting point for your argument (which frankly doesn't seem to have advanced all that far beyond its starting point).

You're using the ineffability of God to avoid putting forward any detail of your hypothesis.

What key subtlety of your position have I missed, that totally transforms it from a "God of the gaps" argument into something else ?

quote:
It''s not a matter of complexity or simplicity at all. It's a matter of essence. Not of degree, but of kind.

You mean you're agnostic about animal intelligence - you don't believe in Dog ? [Smile]

What we see in the animal kingdom is varying degrees of intelligence or practical reasoning ability. If human abstract thought is different in kind, something quite different, then do you think that humans use different parts of their brain for such thought ? Can you say precisely what English sentences constitute the sort of thought of which some animals are capable, and which are this different-in-kind sort of thought ? Spell out how you think it works... Where is the gaping discontinuity between one thing and the other ? If animals can reason to a certain degree - which is what I thought you were suggesting earlier - how is the difference between human and animal thought not then one of degree ?

quote:

The notion of a materialist universe, as I understand it, would be one in which the notion of "people" --but really this would include all notions--is meaningless.

Which is your definition here and which your conclusion ? Can a materialist universe contain life ? Plants ? amoebas ? Dogs ? Chimps ? Humans ? Once you've said what you mean, we can then talk about whether concepts are meaningful to us, or whether we think it would be meaningful to the humans (if there are humans) in that universe.

Is meaninglessness (rather than absence of the supernatural) your definition of a materialist universe ? A universe without language ?

Yours confused,

Russ

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quetzalcoatl
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I thought the usual critique of atheist materialism was not about people, but persons. I mean, that it's often objected that a pure 100% materialism cannot account for what a person is.

But this is similar to the point about the I, or subjective experience.

I suppose the reply would either be that persons can be accounted for by psychology, and psychology is generated in brains; or alternatively, some atheists are not materialists in any case.

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ChastMastr
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quote:
Originally posted by Russ:
Where does what you're saying differ ?

I've been trying to express the difference for the last five pages, apparently without success.

quote:

You wouldn't be saying it if there were a material cause-and-effect that you understood.

No, I'm saying that meaning has to be beyond a material cause and effect by its own nature. Again, this is a philosophical matter, not one of material cause and effect.

quote:
"I can't see how..." is the starting point for your argument (which frankly doesn't seem to have advanced all that far beyond its starting point).
I would say that this is perhaps because the notion of genuine meaning in a purely materialist cosmos pretty much, as far as I can tell, self-destructs instantly once the starting point is reached.

quote:
You're using the ineffability of God to avoid putting forward any detail of your hypothesis.
No, I'm not trying to avoid anything at all, nor am I "using" anything to try to do that; that would be dishonest, and I hope I'm not being accused of that.

quote:

What key subtlety of your position have I missed, that totally transforms it from a "God of the gaps" argument into something else ?

I don't think it's subtle at all, but as I said above, I don't seem to have been able to communicate it effectively for five pages here and for longer over on the previous thread.

quote:

quote:
It''s not a matter of complexity or simplicity at all. It's a matter of essence. Not of degree, but of kind.

You mean you're agnostic about animal intelligence - you don't believe in Dog ? [Smile]
I like the pun, but I'm not talking about a difference in degree/kind re animal/human intelligence, but re meaning/nonmeaning, self/nonself, person/nonperson. I do not absolutely know what animal consciousness is like (but then I don't absolutely know what other people's consciousnesses are like either. I know mine but I've occasionally pondered what it would be like to switch into other people's as it might be interestingly alien to me...), but from what I see/experience/encounter, at least some types seem to be "persons" in some real sense as humans are. I would not be surprised to find that even wee insects (or even smaller, not even getting into inorganic things many people tend to assume are just matter...) have some sort of spiritual essence that we shall encounter someday in the world to come.

quote:

Which is your definition here and which your conclusion ? Can a materialist universe contain life ?

I'm not sure a "materialist universe" can contain anything. The notion of the universe that a given materialist philosopher may have could include all sorts of things.

quote:
Once you've said what you mean, we can then talk about whether concepts are meaningful to us, or whether we think it would be meaningful to the humans (if there are humans) in that universe.
I'm not talking about things being meaningful to humans here or to any beings in any other universe that might exist. I'm talking about things being meaningful, full stop. I'm talking not about the perception of meaning, but of meaning itself.

quote:
Is meaninglessness (rather than absence of the supernatural) your definition of a materialist universe ? A universe without language ?
What does language have to do with anything? Language points to meaning, but I am talking about the meaning it points to.

As I said above,

"I appreciate this discussion--I haven't thought about some of this very much in the last few years, though it's certainly what I have believed for a very long time--but if anything, I'm afraid it's actually re-clarified the certainty of my own position to me. I'm sorry we seem to be unable to bridge the gap, but I think we're at a philosophical first-principle-based impasse here."

And there I end, because I really think we're at an impasse for now based on philosophical first principles.

Sorry if this seems a bit clinical/detached (blue wizard needs food badly)--I wish everyone on this thread well and hope to chat more here on the Ship in future. Peace be with you.

[ 09. September 2014, 22:24: Message edited by: ChastMastr ]

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LeRoc

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TBH, I'm not sure if 'meaning' is the right angle through which to approach the question of the OP. It's a vague concept, even in a non-materialist universe. I think it's much better to approach the question through the angle of choice.

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que sais-je
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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
... it's often objected that a pure 100% materialism cannot account for what a person is.

Is that only true if you equate 'materialism' with 'studiable by science'? The domain of science is the repeatable, the testable, and the modellable. Thus scientific knowledge is universally humanly accessible in the sense that descriptions can be written in a shared language with reference to precise, shared concepts (mostly mathematical).

We have no reason to assume that everything there is can be scientifically studied. There may be material stuff which is outside of science. My sense of 'I' may be such a thing.

It is possible to decree that what is outside science isn't to be called material but, other than as a naming convention, I'm not sure it's philosophically necessary. It's just a dogma of scientism.

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quetzalcoatl
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quote:
Originally posted by LeRoc:
TBH, I'm not sure if 'meaning' is the right angle through which to approach the question of the OP. It's a vague concept, even in a non-materialist universe. I think it's much better to approach the question through the angle of choice.

It's a ridiculously vague word, from the meaning of a word, to the meaning of my life. This makes equivocation quite easy, and also, confusion.

But I think Dafyd made a good point early on - can the advocates of non-materialism explain meaning? I am all agog.

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LeRoc

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quote:
que sais-je: There may be material stuff which is outside of science. My sense of 'I' may be such a thing.
I'm sorry, this is gibberish. There is no definition of 'materialist universe' that makes sense to me if it includes 'material stuff' that is outside of science. On what ground do we call this stuff 'material' then?

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by LeRoc:
quote:
que sais-je: There may be material stuff which is outside of science. My sense of 'I' may be such a thing.
I'm sorry, this is gibberish. There is no definition of 'materialist universe' that makes sense to me if it includes 'material stuff' that is outside of science. On what ground do we call this stuff 'material' then?
There's two ways in which I think que sais-je's point could hold.

One: if someone thinks that economics cannot be a scientific discipline, because it can't exclude value judgements or because economic theory affects the thing studied in a feedback loop, or whatever, I don't think that immediately requires that person to be a anti-materialist. There would therefore be some truths that are outside of science.

Likewise, say colours. Science as presently constituted largely relies on correlating numbers. It can't handle well anything that cannot be measured and assigned numbers. So, when it comes to colours it can only say that such and such a wavelength corresponds to a particular colour as seen by us. Unless you're Daniel Dennett, colours as seen by us cannot be assigned numbers so that they yield to the mathematical modelling that science uses. Now, if a materialist thinks that colours are mind-independent properties of matter, then that materialist thinks that matter has mind-independent properties that nevertheless are not amenable to science as presently constituted.

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que sais-je
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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
Likewise, say colours. Science as presently constituted largely relies on correlating numbers. It can't handle well anything that cannot be measured and assigned numbers. So, when it comes to colours it can only say that such and such a wavelength corresponds to a particular colour as seen by us. Unless you're Daniel Dennett, colours as seen by us cannot be assigned numbers so that they yield to the mathematical modelling that science uses. Now, if a materialist thinks that colours are mind-independent properties of matter, then that materialist thinks that matter has mind-independent properties that nevertheless are not amenable to science as presently constituted.

Thanks Dafyd, that's sort of what I was thinking about but your description is much clearer. You're better at explanation, gibberish is more my thing.

Eddington & Russell pointed out that physics seemed to be all about numbers but we don't (most of us) think the universe really is just a big equation, rather that aspects of it can be modelled by one. I see something blue, not a wavelength of 475nm. Physics or chemistry deal with it by extracting all the phenomenalogical stuff and doing it all with numbers but I don't think that is all matter is.

It's something which has puzzled me for a long time. My first degree was in Mathematical Physics (over 40 years ago). Real physicists say mathematical physicists are people who can't do experiments but aren't clever enough to be mathematicians. Got it in one. Back then I could do (simple) things with the Schroedinger Wave Equation or even the Field Equations of General Relativity (for about a week) but the real material world didn't seem to appear in either. Galen Strawson reignited my puzzlement in an article in the London Review of Books (which alas you can't read unless you are a subscriber**, but more stuff by him can be found at Academia).

** Every couple of years LRB (much like New York Review of Books but more UK oriented) send me a form to nominate someone to receive a year's free subscription (anywhere in the world). I've run out of friends who might be interested. Anyone on SoF want a free subscription to a liberal lefty mag with long reviews giving you an excuse for not reading the book?

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
But I think Dafyd made a good point early on - can the advocates of non-materialism explain meaning? I am all agog.

I do think that there's a genuine problem, even if it's hard to pose the problem in a way that isn't hand-wavy and potentially equivocating.

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Dave Marshall

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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
can the advocates of non-materialism explain meaning?

Mind-mapped significance?
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quote:
Originally posted by Dave Marshall:
quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
can the advocates of non-materialism explain meaning?

Mind-mapped significance?
That just sounds like a synonym to me.

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LeRoc

Famous Dutch pirate
# 3216

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quote:
Dafyd: There's two ways in which I think que sais-je's point could hold.
I have the feeling that the parameters of the discussion are getting a bit fuzzy here.

The OP asks the question whether morality can have meaning in a materialist universe. So, this is where I'm working from. I start by imagining a materialist universe, and try to argue from there whether morality can or cannot have meaning. I personally don't believe we live in a materialist universe, but I can certainly imagine one. (Of course we can differ about what a 'materialist universe' exactly means, that's part of this discussion.)

In your posts: you quoted two examples from our universe. One has to do with economics, the other one with perception of colours.

But that's a paradigm shift. Suddenly we aren't arguing from a materialist universe anymore, we are arguing from our universe. Maybe you believe that these are the same (from our earlier discussions I think you do, but I'm not 100% sure), but I don't believe that.

I didn't understand your example about economics very well, but about your second example: I'm not convinced that perception of colours like you described it exists in a materialist universe.

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I know why God made the rhinoceros, it's because He couldn't see the rhinoceros, so He made the rhinoceros to be able to see it. (Clarice Lispector)

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Dafyd
Shipmate
# 5549

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quote:
Originally posted by LeRoc:
I didn't understand your example about economics very well, but about your second example: I'm not convinced that perception of colours like you described it exists in a materialist universe.

Nothing stops colour from being a real property in a materialist universe.
Let's make a distinction between materialist and physicalist.

A materialist believes that everything that exists is made up of matter (or energy).

A physicalist believes that everything that exists can be mentioned within something like our present understanding of physics.

These are not necessarily the same. A materialist can believe that colours really exist, so that a physical understanding of colour as light of a certain wavelength is not the whole story but merely that part that shows up in physics. A physicalist can believe that numbers and sets and other mathematical objects exist without having any material instantiation.

It sounds to me as if by materialism what you mean is a conjunction of materialism with physicalism?

(The reason you can't tell what I believe is I'm pretty agnostic where it comes to minds. I'm a non-materialist where it comes to mathematical objects though.)

(The point about economics isn't really relevant here: it's just that a materialist can believe that some areas of existence are just too complex, in certain ways, to be treated by the scientific method.)

[ 11. September 2014, 08:52: Message edited by: Dafyd ]

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que sais-je
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# 17185

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quote:
Originally posted by LeRoc:
I personally don't believe we live in a materialist universe, but I can certainly imagine one.

...

I'm not convinced that perception of colours like you described it exists in a materialist universe.

Then your imaginative idea of a materialist universe differs from some other people's intuitions. How do you imagine someone would experience colour in a materialist universe?

You may well be right - I know I'm confused by both views. I could change my sig line to "I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now". Some become more set in their beliefs as they get older, I've become set in uncertainty. Which is surprisingly ataraxic (if there is such a word - or even if there isn't). But as Thomas Browne said (just after my current sig):
quote:
Every man is not a proper Champion for Truth, nor fit to take up the Gantlet in the cause of Veritie: Many from the ignorance of these Maximes, and an inconsiderate zeale unto Truth, have too rashly charged the troopes of error, and remaine as Trophees unto the enemies of Truth: A man may be in as just possession of Truth as of a City, and yet bee forced to surrender: tis therefore farre better to enjoy her with peace, then to hazzard her on a battell.


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"controversies, disputes, and argumentations, both in philosophy and in divinity, if they meet with discreet and peaceable natures, do not infringe the laws of charity" (Thomas Browne)

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quetzalcoatl
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# 16740

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Colour is the subject of the 'Mary in the black and white room' problem, extensively discussed in philosophy. It asks the question, if Mary acquired a huge amount of knowledge about colour, but lived in a black and white room, what would happen if she left the room, and saw something red.

One argument is that all the information about colour would not give her the experience of seeing red, which is qualitatively different.

However, it has spawned a huge amount of debate about qualia and so on. I suppose it is an argument against physicalism.

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I can't talk to you today; I talked to two people yesterday.

Posts: 9878 | From: UK | Registered: Oct 2011  |  IP: Logged



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