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Source: (consider it) Thread: Can morality have meaning in a materialist universe?
que sais-je
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My posting crossed with Dafyd's. Thanks Dafyd, I wish I had your clarity on these things.
quote:
posted by Dafvd
A physicalist can believe that numbers and sets and other mathematical objects exist without having any material instantiation

How so? I'm a confused nominalist on maths - a consequence of having been a computer scientist perhaps.

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LeRoc

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quote:
Dafyd: It sounds to me as if by materialism what you mean is a conjunction of materialism with physicalism?
I'm a bit sloppy with terminology sometimes. Whenever I say 'materialism', you may substitute 'physicalism' for it. My basic argument is the same.

quote:
que sais-je: How do you imagine someone would experience colour in a materialist universe?
They wouldn't. In a materialist / physicalist universe, there would be a receptor that would physically register the wavelength, just like my electronic camera does. And there would be a processor that would transform this into the word 'blue'. But there wouldn't be an 'I' that experiences the colour blue.

I believe there is a very real difference between how a camera captures the colour blue and how I experience it. The difference lies exactly in the gap beteen the physical and the mental. There is an 'inner world' that I experience in which this colour has a place. I don't think that materialism / physicalism can bridge that gap.

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quetzalcoatl
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That's the gap that has led some philosophers, such as Nagel and Chalmers, to critique materialism, so we have the interesting prospect of atheists who are not materialists. However, I think Bertrand Russell was close to this.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by que sais-je:
quote:
posted by Dafvd
A physicalist can believe that numbers and sets and other mathematical objects exist without having any material instantiation

How so? I'm a confused nominalist on maths - a consequence of having been a computer scientist perhaps.
The argument starts by noting that a physicalist obviously cannot be a nominalist about physics. Then, physics requires, as a premise, that mathematics successfully models the physical universe and therefore has genuine predictive power. To suppose that mathematics has genuine predictive power requires realism about mathematics, and it is hard to have realism about mathematical objects and materialism at the same time. (For example, what material state of affairs determines the non-nominal existence of a set?)

Not all physicalists would agree. But Quine (as fierce a nominalist in other respects as one could wish) was a realist about mathematics.

As to the question of how mathematical objects subsist if they don't have material embodiment, the answer would be that we don't and can't know, but inability to imagine what something is isn't a bar to accepting e.g. electrons.

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quetzalcoatl
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Yes, I thought that the notion of 'material embodiment' is up in the air, since matter is not well defined.

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itsarumdo
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I think the materialists get confused by nouns - they/we think that many things that have been labelled are therefore understood and fixed in a way that they are not.

for example, "electron" is a concept - we have never literally experienced one - we have played with them in experiments, we have more or less defined how they behave in the gross world, but the essence of the electron remains conceptual. So it is called fundamental - we don't know what it is composed of except that it is made up of "electron stuff", or if some other more fundamental particles come along that make up an electron we don't know what they are composed of.

Similarly, bigger and more familiar things remain concepts that happen to have been labelled and no unified, and are not fully described. Because they are familiar - air, trees, water, dogs - we assume that somehow they have been defined outside our heads, but that is not really correct. It is the simple things - like the electron! that have been best defined, and everything more complex than that is much harder to fully understand from a material pov.

wrt maths, I worked with mathematical models of groundwater flow for some years. the maths idealises the "reality" with a necessary set of a priori assumptions. It is always known that the a priori assumptions are literally that - assumptions. Either we assume that the physical "constants" are constant, or we simplify some heterogenous reality and give it an average value so that the maths works out. We allow infinitesimal points and infinite bounds for mathematical convenience. We even sometimes choose certain mathematical formulations that are limited in their applicability to the real world just because a real mathematical description would be too complex. I admit that the latter point is less prevalent these days outside the biological sciences. And we apply Occam's Law rather like Freddy the slasher, assuming that simplicity is the way that nature has been constructed. Like everything else, it's an assumption.

SO getting back to the topic, the model of the material universe that we have is based on a set of assumptions. It's based on a well hidden desire for certainty and predictability - we look for the patterns rather than the non-patterns, as if one is more significant than another. In a truly material universe there would not necessarily be any preference between chaos and homogeneous predictably, just as long as some mechanism for either could be identified or someone could say by repeatable observation that "that's how it is". I just can't see how that position has any foundation for morality.

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quetzalcoatl
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itsarumdo

Surely, the solution to that is emergence. We don't really think that the table in front of us is a collection of quarks and emptiness, do we?

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itsarumdo
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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
itsarumdo

Surely, the solution to that is emergence. We don't really think that the table in front of us is a collection of quarks and emptiness, do we?

emergence from a mathematical point of view

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quetzalcoatl
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quote:
Originally posted by itsarumdo:
quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
itsarumdo

Surely, the solution to that is emergence. We don't really think that the table in front of us is a collection of quarks and emptiness, do we?

emergence from a mathematical point of view
Very amusing. So what are you saying, matter cannot generate morality, therefore the Nicene Creed?

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itsarumdo
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The morality of Matter is that what can be done will be done sometime or other. And if what arises is commensurate with what already exists, then it might hang around for a while longer. I don't think that's what we consider to be morality from a human pov.

My personal opinion (I would't go any further than opinion) is that Christianity has never really dug itself fully back out of the mess of the Nicene creed. As a committee decision, it's a camel. I may be wrong. Just like the insistence on a Ptolemaic solar system got the church into trouble with real observations of the natural world, at the bottom of the Nicene creed is an attempt to define what God can and cannot do, and gives far too much power to the lawyers.

[ 11. September 2014, 13:59: Message edited by: itsarumdo ]

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Dave Marshall

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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
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.
I wonder then what you mean by explain. Ok, it doesn't add any new context to the discussion, but it helped me understand meaning better.

It locates meaning in the mind; it relates meaning to the more easily understood concept of significance; and uses the well-known idea of a map as its central metaphor.

Perhaps most interestingly, and why I bothered to post it, it seemed to work in as many contexts for meaning as I could think of at the time. I thought the simplicity of a three-word post also reflected the nature of meaning as a foundational feature of our humanity. I don't think it's a concept that can be explained by breaking it down further, only better understood in terms of appreciating what it signifies.

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
The argument starts by noting that a physicalist obviously cannot be a nominalist about physics. Then, physics requires, as a premise, that mathematics successfully models the physical universe and therefore has genuine predictive power.

No. Just no. The idea that mathematics can be used to successfully model the physical universe is not a premise of physics, it's a conclusion reached after a lot of painstaking observation going back at least as far as Kepler. Trying to pretend it's an underlying premise hand waves away a lot of hard work by several century's worth of dedicated scientists.

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itsarumdo
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The danger is when the maths is thought to be the reality... In truth there is no way of knowing whether use of Occam's razor has amalgamated a load of unknown processes or glossed over a complexity with a simplification that is good enough to approximate behaviour on the scale of observation. The idea that results indicate the mathematical physics is somehow real is ubiquitous in our society - and amongst quite a few scientists too.

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Russ
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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
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?

I think the problem here is the use of the word "exist".

What light consists of - according to our best understanding of physics - is an electromagnetic wave. We have the experience of seeing different colours, according to the wavelength. If the physics somehow doesn't explain the quality of the experience, that doesn't mean that the experience is unreal - that would be an error (reductionism ? scientism ?). But it equally doesn't mean that the physics is faulty by omitting some phlogiston-like "essence of blueness" - that would also be an error. One that was labelled earlier as the "fallacy of composition", but could perhaps be seen as reifying into a Thing an experience that results from what photons do.

Whether colours "exist" is a wrong question - answering either yes or no tends to lead to an inadequate way of looking at the phenomena in question.

News, dances, understanding, meaning, love are real phenomena that don't "exist" as Things in the world. Neither denying them or treating them as concrete nouns (is there a better term for that ?) with properties is an adequate philosophical account of them.

Best wishes,

Russ

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
The idea that mathematics can be used to successfully model the physical universe is not a premise of physics, it's a conclusion reached after a lot of painstaking observation going back at least as far as Kepler. Trying to pretend it's an underlying premise hand waves away a lot of hard work by several century's worth of dedicated scientists.

There are a lot of concealed assumptions here, which I think are mistaken, and which are certainly highly contestable, and really I don't know where to start.

Firstly, you're assuming that the hard work in question can be adequately characterised as 'drawing conclusions from painstaking observation', as opposed to 'rejecting old premises and coming up with new ones'.
Related to this is the assumption that it would actually be possible for someone to reach the conclusion that mathematics models the world by reflecting upon data.
(How are they supposed to notice mathematical correlations if they aren't measuring things? But why are they measuring things if they don't already believe that mathematics models the world?)

Secondly, you're assuming that there's no problem in referring to the people in question as 'scientists' even though the word 'scientist' is anachronistic.
There's a whole set of related assumptions buried beneath that. For example, old-fashioned histories of science take it that if someone is doing something of interest to the history of science, they must have been thinking in the ways characteristic of modern scientific methodology while they were doing so. And that they must have been switching gears in their heads if they also did stuff we now consider alchemy or astrology or philosophy or pure mathematics; from which it follows that those gear switches must have occurred at the points where a modern person would switch gears. But the words the people they're writing about used to describe what they were doing imply subject breaks and disciplinary breaks at different points, which in turn implies that the gear switching must have happened at those different points. And that implies that they can't have been using exactly the same gears as anybody educated in modern disciplinary methods would use.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Russ:
What light consists of - according to our best understanding of physics - is an electromagnetic wave. We have the experience of seeing different colours, according to the wavelength. If the physics somehow doesn't explain the quality of the experience, that doesn't mean that the experience is unreal - that would be an error (reductionism ? scientism ?). But it equally doesn't mean that the physics is faulty by omitting some phlogiston-like "essence of blueness" - that would also be an error. One that was labelled earlier as the "fallacy of composition", but could perhaps be seen as reifying into a Thing an experience that results from what photons do.

I feel that this is just objecting to one way of posing the problem, rather than resolving the problem.
Roughly speaking, in order for physicalism to be true, it should be possible to recast the above sentences without using any nouns that aren't part of the language of physics. That includes the phrases 'the quality' and 'the experience'. Certainly one can say that 'the quality of the experience' are linguistic phrase which only uses nouns for convenience, but if one cannot actually perform the eliminative reduction, that's a mere theoretical marker. It's not as if the process or activity of experiencing is any better described in physics.

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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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Grokesx
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quote:
Dafyd wrote
Roughly speaking, in order for physicalism to be true, it should be possible to recast the above sentences without using any nouns that aren't part of the language of physics.

Naah. Firstly, physicalism being true or false is independent of how we talk about it.

Secondly, if physicalism were true, yes, it would be possible in the future to recast those sentences to your satisfaction provided mankind works out a complete account of the whole of physical existence. We are not at that point yet, if we will ever get there, which I doubt. But our curiosity outruns our knowledge - if it didn't we wouldn't have any knowledge at all - and so we make hypotheses and discuss them. We are all doing a sort of philosophy here - mostly pretty badly, but hey ho - and philosophy deals with logical possibilities most of the time, not with what is actually true. The point at issue on this thread is whether morality, meaning, consciousness, whatever, is somehow logically impossible under physicalism, and the arguments deployed on one side have been variants on, "Well, the physicalist can't make a full account of morality or whatever, therefore... oh hold on this sounds like a god of the gaps argument and it isn't that at all, it is something completely different but I'm not going to tell you what it is"

But that's by the by, because, thirdly, even if we did have that complete account of the whole of physical existence, no one would ever recast concepts such as experience into the language of physics because it would be an absolute waste of time. The language of physics is totally irrelevant to every part of human endeavour that is not physics. That is not the same as saying that physics does not underpin everything according a to a physicalist interpretation, but it means that we talk about stuff at the appropriate levels of explanation. Biologist turned philosopher Massimo Pigliucci gives an example in a recent Scientia Salon article:
quote:
Let’s say you want to understand the population dynamics of a species of plants, for instance belonging to an invasive species (this comes straight out of my work as an empirical scientist, as you might have guessed). It is of no use to point out that plants, “ultimately” are made of quarks. A quantum mechanical theory of population dynamics — even if possible in principle — is never going to be developed and it wouldn’t help anyway because it would be far too complicated (and unnecessarily so) for a human to comprehend. Instead, the population biologist looks at population genetics (circa one level of complexity below that of organismal biology) and at ecosystem theory (circa one level of complexity above).
Aspects of morality, experience, consciousness etc can usefully be talked about in the languages of psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, evolutionary biology, computer science, artificial intelligence and neurology, among others. Physics? Why bother?

[ 14. September 2014, 13:19: Message edited by: Grokesx ]

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Grokesx:
We are all doing a sort of philosophy here - mostly pretty badly, but hey ho -

Speak for yourself.

quote:
Naah. Firstly, physicalism being true or false is independent of how we talk about it.

Secondly, if physicalism were true, yes, it would be possible in the future to recast those sentences to your satisfaction provided mankind works out a complete account of the whole of physical existence.

So, naah, but yes? Pardon me if I'm not convinced you've got a devasting rebuttal either here, or anywhere else in your post.

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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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Grokesx
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quote:
So, naah, but yes?
Naah. Multiple issues. A) Naah, as in ontology is not dependent on epistemology. B) Possible, in some distant future if some conditions were met that are by no means certain, but that possibility does not preclude hypothesizing on the logical possibilities in the here and now based on current knowledge C) Irrelevant anyway.

Edited for too many certains.

[ 14. September 2014, 16:58: Message edited by: Grokesx ]

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Grokesx:
Irrelevant anyway.

Yes. I think that about sums up my response to your post.

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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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Grokesx
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@Dafyd

That's as may be, but your good philosophy has not made it clear to me at any rate why the language of physics is any way relevant to consciousness, morality etc. At first blush your line of reasoning is similar to the creationist who says that evolution is just a theory and that until you can provide an account of every mutation from the supposed common ancestor to modern humans, your sciency guess is as good as my biblical interpretation one.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Grokesx:
That's as may be, but your good philosophy has not made it clear to me at any rate why the language of physics is any way relevant to consciousness, morality etc.

That's because I haven't been trying to do anything of the sort.

quote:
At first blush your line of reasoning is similar to the creationist who says that evolution is just a theory and that until you can provide an account of every mutation from the supposed common ancestor to modern humans, your sciency guess is as good as my biblical interpretation one.
You really have no idea what my line of reasoning is, do you?

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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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Grokesx
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@Dafyd
quote:
That's because I haven't been trying to do anything of the sort.
Well you brought up the notion of talking about experience and quality in the language of physics and you seem to be implying that the language of physics is the only way a physicalist can talk about things like quality and experience and that until the ultimate reduction is done, what they are doing with all this crazy talk is just theory.

If this is what you are saying, then well, yeah, but vast swathes of philosophy is in the same boat. Not least the other side of this debate with its not really god of the gaps reasoning.

quote:
You really have no idea what my line of reasoning is, do you?
No I haven't. Maybe if you drew it in a different colour, that might help.

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
The idea that mathematics can be used to successfully model the physical universe is not a premise of physics, it's a conclusion reached after a lot of painstaking observation going back at least as far as Kepler. Trying to pretend it's an underlying premise hand waves away a lot of hard work by several century's worth of dedicated scientists.

There are a lot of concealed assumptions here, which I think are mistaken, and which are certainly highly contestable, and really I don't know where to start.

Firstly, you're assuming that the hard work in question can be adequately characterised as 'drawing conclusions from painstaking observation', as opposed to 'rejecting old premises and coming up with new ones'.
Related to this is the assumption that it would actually be possible for someone to reach the conclusion that mathematics models the world by reflecting upon data.
(How are they supposed to notice mathematical correlations if they aren't measuring things? But why are they measuring things if they don't already believe that mathematics models the world?)

Observing and measuring things is one of the things people do. Recognizing patterns is another. To take a fairly simple (and pre-scientific) example of this, it was eventually noted that if the Nile flooded a little famine would follow, if it flooded a moderate amount everything would be fine, and if it flooded too much it would be disastrous. Eventually this was formalized into an instrumental measurement. I'm not sure where the change in premises occurred. It seems more like a formalization of an observed process (the fertility of Egypt is dependent on the flooding of the Nile, therefore we should observe and measure the behavior of the Nile).

quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
Secondly, you're assuming that there's no problem in referring to the people in question as 'scientists' even though the word 'scientist' is anachronistic.

I don't insist on the term and don't particularly feel like wrangling semantics. If you feel better with "those who make observations of physical reality and draw conclusions therefrom" or some other phrase you think more apt, feel free to substitute it.

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itsarumdo
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quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
The idea that mathematics can be used to successfully model the physical universe is not a premise of physics, it's a conclusion reached after a lot of painstaking observation going back at least as far as Kepler. Trying to pretend it's an underlying premise hand waves away a lot of hard work by several century's worth of dedicated scientists.

There are a lot of concealed assumptions here, which I think are mistaken, and which are certainly highly contestable, and really I don't know where to start.

Firstly, you're assuming that the hard work in question can be adequately characterised as 'drawing conclusions from painstaking observation', as opposed to 'rejecting old premises and coming up with new ones'.
Related to this is the assumption that it would actually be possible for someone to reach the conclusion that mathematics models the world by reflecting upon data.
(How are they supposed to notice mathematical correlations if they aren't measuring things? But why are they measuring things if they don't already believe that mathematics models the world?)

Observing and measuring things is one of the things people do. Recognizing patterns is another. To take a fairly simple (and pre-scientific) example of this, it was eventually noted that if the Nile flooded a little famine would follow, if it flooded a moderate amount everything would be fine, and if it flooded too much it would be disastrous. Eventually this was formalized into an instrumental measurement. I'm not sure where the change in premises occurred. It seems more like a formalization of an observed process (the fertility of Egypt is dependent on the flooding of the Nile, therefore we should observe and measure the behavior of the Nile).

quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
Secondly, you're assuming that there's no problem in referring to the people in question as 'scientists' even though the word 'scientist' is anachronistic.

I don't insist on the term and don't particularly feel like wrangling semantics. If you feel better with "those who make observations of physical reality and draw conclusions therefrom" or some other phrase you think more apt, feel free to substitute it.

That is not a clear argument - the isea that one can take a water level and immediately have some idea of usefulness is based on an underlying assumption as to the datum for the measurement. If your datum is to local land elevation, then the statement is true. If it's to a regional or universal elevation, then not necessarily true - sedimentation, isostasy, etc can change all that. Measurement only has relevance if what is being measured, how it is being measured and how the common unit of measurement is defined - are all adequately and clearly and consciously defined. It is very rare that this level of disambiguity is available. As the situation becomes more generalised or more complex, the likelihood that there is a conscious disambiguation decreases rapidly.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Grokesx:
Well you brought up the notion of talking about experience and quality in the language of physics and you seem to be implying that the language of physics is the only way a physicalist can talk about things like quality and experience and that until the ultimate reduction is done, what they are doing with all this crazy talk is just theory.

Physicalism does not require a one-stage translation into physics. You can inherit.
(Just as if you have a point and click report writing interface written in programming language A, and language A is written in language B, and language B is written in language C, and language C compiles directly into machine code, there is no need to show how the report writing interface translates into machine code directly.)

But you do have to show that there's an in principle possible translation somewhere.

quote:
quote:
You really have no idea what my line of reasoning is, do you?
No I haven't. Maybe if you drew it in a different colour, that might help.
Just because everybody else has problems doesn't mean physicalism doesn't. That everybody has a problem doesn't mean it's not a problem.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
I'm not sure where the change in premises occurred. It seems more like a formalization of an observed process (the fertility of Egypt is dependent on the flooding of the Nile, therefore we should observe and measure the behavior of the Nile).

It seems like that because you think it must have happened like that. If people work out a way of measuring things, then they must have reached it by concluding it from painstaking observations. The Egyptians worked out a way of measuring things. Therefore the Egyptians must have reached the conclusion that they could measure things from painstaking observations.
You're assuming the claim you want to demonstrate as the major premise of your argument.

You're trying to argue that modern scientific method is a simple obvious extension of the methodology of the ancient Egyptian priesthood and beyond them of early agrarian farming communities and beyond them of the Rift-valley hunter-gatherers. That just doesn't follow, and there are good reasons to disbelieve it, philosophical and historical.

quote:
I don't insist on the term and don't particularly feel like wrangling semantics. If you feel better with "those who make observations of physical reality and draw conclusions therefrom" or some other phrase you think more apt, feel free to substitute it.
The point remains. The ancient Greeks did not have a single term that covered all of 'those who make observations of physical reality and draw conclusions therefrom' and nobody else. That gives us reason to suppose they did not think of what they were doing in those terms, given that there is little to no evidence that they did think of what they were doing in those terms.

Archimedes, for example, derives his principle about the displacement of floating bodies entirely on geometrical principles without once mentioning observations of physical reality.

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quote:
But you do have to show that there's an in principle possible translation somewhere.
In principle, there is, in supervenience/emergentism. Now, you might say, emergence/shmemurgence as others have and leave it at that because you don't personally find it convincing, and that's fine. But that's about the same level of significance as my scepticism of all things godly, ie somewhere around zero.
quote:
Just because everybody else has problems doesn't mean physicalism doesn't. That everybody has a problem doesn't mean it's not a problem.
If what you want to do is point out problems with physicalism, fill your boots. I've not said there are no problems with it, that is not what the discussion has been about. The point at issue has been whether a particular problem in physicalism can only be resolved by jettisoning it and adopting non physicalism instead. The fact that everyone has problems now becomes germane, and we all have reasons for favouring one position over others and in many instances reasonable, rational people can come to different, maybe provisional conclusions.

Though in fairness, rarely are such disagreements well mannered. Especially on the internet.

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quetzalcoatl
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One of the problems with non-material solutions is what method could be used to assess them. If I say, for example, that a non-material force beam is causing gravity, how could that be assessed? I don't know.

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@Quetz
no problem, that one's covered.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Grokesx:
quote:
But you do have to show that there's an in principle possible translation somewhere.
In principle, there is, in supervenience/emergentism. Now, you might say, emergence/shmemurgence as others have and leave it at that because you don't personally find it convincing, and that's fine.
That's not an explanation. That's just a word. (Consider water, which is the usual analogy here. We can explain why water is wet in terms of the electrical and physical structure of a water molecule.)

quote:
The point at issue has been whether a particular problem in physicalism can only be resolved by jettisoning it and adopting non physicalism instead.
Ok then. Why do you want to jettison physicalism? You think it conflates ontology and epistemology? I think that's an unfair reading of it.

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quote:
That's not an explanation. That's just a word.
Plenty more words about it on the internet. Plenty of problems, too.
quote:
Ok then. Why do you want to jettison physicalism?
I don't, I'm being told I have to if I want to keep the concepts of morality, consciousness etc.

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LeRoc

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quote:
quetzalcoatl: One of the problems with non-material solutions is what method could be used to assess them. If I say, for example, that a non-material force beam is causing gravity, how could that be assessed? I don't know.
Why would non-material solutions need to be assessible?

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quetzalcoatl
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quote:
Originally posted by LeRoc:
quote:
quetzalcoatl: One of the problems with non-material solutions is what method could be used to assess them. If I say, for example, that a non-material force beam is causing gravity, how could that be assessed? I don't know.
Why would non-material solutions need to be assessible?
I don't think they need to be. But if you can't assess them, there are no constraints, are there? My non-material force beam is as valid as Venusian angels pulling stuff down to the centre of the earth.

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itsarumdo
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That's the usual response - if it's non physical it could be space pixies or blue rabbits from betelgeuse, or whatever. That is only true for someone who refuses to engage with the non-material. The interesting thing is that the non-material is accesible through the senses - it's just that a) it's necessary to be somatically proficient rather than just interested in ideas, and b) "you'll see it when you believe it" is one of the rules of the game.

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quetzalcoatl
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I'm quite prepared to welcome Venusian angels; they've got to be more entertaining than watching Liverpool tonight.

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Ikkyu
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quote:
Originally posted by itsarumdo:
That's the usual response - if it's non physical it could be space pixies or blue rabbits from betelgeuse, or whatever. That is only true for someone who refuses to engage with the non-material. The interesting thing is that the non-material is accesible through the senses - it's just that a) it's necessary to be somatically proficient rather than just interested in ideas, and b) "you'll see it when you believe it" is one of the rules of the game.

So why people who "see it" have so many different versions of "it" lots of them incompatible with each other?
And "you'll see it when you believe it" is a rather perverse way to run a Universe.

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LeRoc

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quote:
quetzalcoatl: But if you can't assess them, there are no constraints, are there? My non-material force beam is as valid as Venusian angels pulling stuff down to the centre of the earth.
That's true.

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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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quote:
Originally posted by itsarumdo:
That's the usual response - if it's non physical it could be space pixies or blue rabbits from betelgeuse, or whatever. That is only true for someone who refuses to engage with the non-material. The interesting thing is that the non-material is accesible through the senses - it's just that a) it's necessary to be somatically proficient rather than just interested in ideas, and b) "you'll see it when you believe it" is one of the rules of the game.

But again, there are no constraints here. Anything supernatural is as valid as anything else, isn't it?

But possibly this is holding supernatural claims to an unnecessarily, or in fact, impossibly high standard.

I go back to my local shaman and her power animals; it's an attractive idea, and it could be true. I suppose I'm left with a kind of pragmatic criterion - rather than is it true, is it useful to me?

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itsarumdo
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Our sensory system has a far broader range than we have been led to believe. And - unless you believe that it can do more than you expect - it remains impossible to sense whatever you do not believe you can sense.

I can give you a more physical example - birds have been migrating for millions of years, but we have not known what senses they use for this. Now it turns out that a dozen or so cells in a birds eye are sensitive to magnetism - in fact, more sensitive than the most sensitive magnetometer we have so far been able to construct. You can imagine the size of a human-made instrument compared to a dozen cells in an eye. Furthermore, there are cultures in various parts of the world who retain a geographic language - they do not say - "there's an ant to the left of your left foot", but rahther say "there's an ant to your NorthWest" because they have an immediate and continuous sense of the geographic directions. So = in all probability, humans also have magnetic receptors in our eyes. But unless you believe that there is at least a possibility that you might be able to do the same, and by experiment find how that sensory information is presented to your consciousness, it will never be available. Witht the belief, there is no access to the sensory system. These less physical signals are necessarily more subtle than a ghetto blaster and a strobe light.

Similarly, with a small amount of training it's easy to see the posture of someone walking. Then with a little more relaxation and openness to what might be perceived, the musculoskeletal structire becomes perceptible. CVontinue on from there woith openness, and something of the emotional and mental processes become visible, along with other stuff that starts to be slightly "odd" from a materialist pov... There is no need to develop these perceptive skills - they are after all Siddhis - but a) they are not just imagination, b) they are nowhere near as random as the last 3 posters have suggested, and c) unless there is an openness to their possibility, they are inaccessible. Returning to the thread subject, they can also form a basis for morality, because at a certain point it becomes very obvious what effect even thoughts have on another person. I don't think this point of perceptual openness is really that far form most people's normal range - but imo a refusal to believe that you can feel more than the classic 5 senses is tantamount to cutting off the sense organ that morailty os based on.

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quetzalcoatl
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I don't doubt your comments about posture. I learned over 30 years to detect stuff in clients (in therapy), which was covert - emotional stuff mainly, via their posture, physical movements, gestures, and so on.

I never thought this was supernatural though. You can be trained to it. In fact, I am offering cut-price tuition right now, at $50, 000, it's a snip.

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itsarumdo
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quote:
Originally posted by quetzalcoatl:
...

I never thought this was supernatural though. ...

well - exactly. None of it is. It's natural. It's just that the definition of natural has taken on an extremely limited and literal "materialist" meaning.

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itsarumdo
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Taking that further, we still have lateral line pressure sensors which are fully integrated into our hearing senses - so amongst other things we have an inbuilt sense of spaciousness and are able to "hear" some "subsonic" sounds through our body. Every cell in our body is capable of detecting at least infrared, possibly other frequencies, and also its direction - so we also can detect changes in IR in our environment down to about 0.1 deg C with a little bit of training. Even forgetting the "paranormal" (sic) there is a lot that is "super-natural" under the current self-limiting definition of "natural". And as long as everyone continues to believe that they can't sense in this way, they wonlt be able to make any of that information conscious. Belief (and disbelief) is very powerful.

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Grokesx
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quote:
well - exactly. None of it is. It's natural. It's just that the definition of natural has taken on an extremely limited and literal "materialist" meaning.
In this debate that limited understanding has been on the side of those who deny that consciousness, morality etc can arise from the complex interactions of molecules, and who deny that it is possible for everything to supervene on the physical, which is the modern physicalist/materialist view.

It's not naturalists/materialists/physicalists or whatever you want to call them who are limiting the definition of what is natural, it's people who cry "scientism" at the drop of a hat and make hasty generalisations as soon as someone refers to science in discussions such as these, as if consciousness, morality etc are beyond its scope because metaphysical phlogiston.

As far as I can see, the people actually trying to find out stuff about, say, magnetoception are those working in "materialist" science. For instance, these foks and these.

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itsarumdo
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That's verging on being apologist. For years anyone claiming to be able to feel anything even vaguely super-"natural" (in its limited sense) has been derided and ostracised from mainstream professions. The fact that magnetoception etc is now "science" is not a statement that the general ability to perceive beyond the obvious senses is acceptable in all areas of society - or even most scientists. The weirdness is not that these senses exist but in the fact that we have a long history of strong denial that they can possibly exist, which runs deep through popular culture.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by itsarumdo:
For years anyone claiming to be able to feel anything even vaguely super-"natural" (in its limited sense) has been derided and ostracised from mainstream professions.

This may or may not be true. It is however nothing to do with materialism as a philosophical position.

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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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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Grokesx:
it is possible for everything to supervene on the physical, which is the modern physicalist/materialist view.

Being pedantic: mere supervenience is enough to make materialists happy. A physicalist has to posit explanatory dependence as well.

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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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Originally posted by Grokesx:
quote:
In principle, there is, in supervenience/emergentism.
Originally posted by Dafyd:
quote:
That's not an explanation. That's just a word.
There does seem to be a phenomenon whereby people feel more comfortable with a label that somehow excuses them from not being able to explain.

People can and do use words like "magic", "supernatural", "God" in this way, attributing the effect to a cause which is acknowledged to be not-fully-understandable. It sounds like they're saying something, but the meaning isn't much more than "I don't understand how this works and it's not reasonable to expect me to understand how this works".

Not every use of these words is this type of non-explanation by labelling.

And yes, "emergence" can also be used in this way.

So it's up to those of us who are trying to say something more than "I dunno" to elaborate on how they think the magic / supernature / God / emergence works.

By "emergence" I understand something like the Law of Large Numbers. Lots of real-world variables turn out to be normally distributed. And that's because mathematically, if you add together lots of independent similarly-distributed variables the limiting distribution is a normal distribution.

That means that if you have lots of similar widgets, then regardless of the physics of how a widget works or is made, the characteristics of the population of widgets will be described by a normal distribution.

So you can understand aspects of the large-scale behaviour of widgets - well enough to make useful predictions - in a way that has nothing to do with the small-scale characteristics of widgets, and doesn't follow directly from any understanding of their constitution.

And that's an example of what I understand by "emergent behaviour".

Economic "laws" that can't be deduced directly from the psychology of individuals participating in a market might be another example.

Best wishes,

Russ

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Russ:
By "emergence" I understand something like the Law of Large Numbers. Lots of real-world variables turn out to be normally distributed. And that's because mathematically, if you add together lots of independent similarly-distributed variables the limiting distribution is a normal distribution.

That means that if you have lots of similar widgets, then regardless of the physics of how a widget works or is made, the characteristics of the population of widgets will be described by a normal distribution.

I don't think this is what is normally meant by emergence, and it certainly isn't sufficient to resolve any of the problems that people have been citing.

A normal distribution happens when a large number of random processes occur independently. Any resulting pattern is of the same kind as the constituent parts. It can be predicted just from looking at one constituent.

Emergence, as I understand it, is almost the opposite. A normal distribution occurs when there are no interactions among the constituent parts. Emergence occurs when the interactions among the parts give rise to behaviour that is qualitatively different from the behaviour of the parts.

So water molecules tend to stick to each other and to other surfaces. That isn't behaviour that is predictable from either hydrogen molecules or oxygen molecules individually. The tendency to stick (wetness) is emergent.

It seems rather hard to see consciousness or qualia as the statistical result of independently acting neurons. Besides which, neurons certainly do not behave independently of each other.

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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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itsarumdo
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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
quote:
Originally posted by itsarumdo:
For years anyone claiming to be able to feel anything even vaguely super-"natural" (in its limited sense) has been derided and ostracised from mainstream professions.

This may or may not be true. It is however nothing to do with materialism as a philosophical position.
It's far more than a philosophical position. The reversal of science via Occam's Razor is that if there is no known mechanism for anythng then it doesn't exist - there is no need for it to exist. This was applied by neurologists in the early 20th century to the sensory systems of babies. The assumption behind the training of 2 or 3 generations of doctors was that the neurology of a baby is so poorly developed that it is incapable of feeling any pain, and that therefore crying is just a reflex. This proceded to justify a whole series of medical procedures - scalp blood samples, operations without anaesthesia, etc - which are only just being removed form mainstream western medical practice. Not to mention medical advice on the proper care of newborns by parents. Philosophy in action. The mindset that created this little situation is no different from the one that questions the more subtle senses and considers their existence unporoven - therefore improbable - with no attempt to investigate experientially. Quoting a couple of research papers to imply that this is no longer an issue (i.e. we can think and debate about sensory information until the cows come home but not bother actually exploring its subjective sensibility) is cynical armwaving mollification.

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