2,657 Replies to “Elon Musk Thinks Evolution is Bullshit.”

  1. walto walto
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    says:

    Argument. Hahaha. That’s nought but a bare unsupported and unbelievable claim, Jim. Or whatever you’re going by today.

  2. keiths keiths
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    says:

    Again, I’ll let you fight it out with KN, who recognized my argument and was trying to counter it before he flounced (and unflounced, and reflounced).

    Pretending that there’s no argument doesn’t make it go away, any more than putting your hands over your eyes renders the coffee table nonexistent.

  3. keiths keiths
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    says:

    walto,

    According to Bruce’s recent posts on the topic, it makes no difference to anything discussed here, since the states of both swamp people and abducted Patrick should be considered to have been produced by open systems that are therefore not reversible.

    You’re misunderstanding Bruce’s point.

    You can’t (in principle) time-reverse the wavefunction of Swampman in isolation, because he interacts with his environment. You can (in principle) time-reverse the wavefunction of the entire universe, because it has no environment with which to interact.

    The universe includes Swampman (and everything else), so when you time-reverse the universal wavefunction, you’re time-reversing everything.

    Bruce’s hope in bringing this up was to provide something physical upon which meaning could supervene, but as I’ve already explained, the relevant physical state is in the wrong place. It doesn’t fit with Bruce’s theory of meaning.

  4. walto walto
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    keiths: Again, I’ll let you fight it out with KN

    I’ll take it up with him straightaway!

  5. walto walto
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    says:

    keiths: The universe includes Swampman (and everything else), so when you time-reverse the universal wavefunction, you’re time-reversing everything.

    That seems to me irrelevant to the various states on which “tree” might supervene for you and swamp jim (and with patrick and abducted patrick) But I’ll let you argue this out with them while I’m having my own argument with KN.

  6. Patrick Patrick
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    says:

    keiths:
    . . .
    You can’t (in principle) time-reverse the wavefunction of Swampman in isolation, because he interacts with his environment.You can (in principle) time-reverse the wavefunction of the entire universe, because it has no environment with which to interact.
    . . . .

    In case I wasn’t clear earlier, you can apply that operator the the mathematical model of QM but my understanding, which again may be out of date, is that there is no evidence that the model with that operator applied has a real world referent. Since we don’t yet have a unified theory of everything, it’s not surprising that QM may be incomplete or inaccurate as a description of reality.

  7. Mung Mung
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    I think keiths’ senses were veridical before he was born. So what happened after he was born to change that?

  8. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    walto: I’ll take it up with him straightaway!

    Are we supposed to be arguing about whether keiths has an argument for his version of “Cartesian skepticism”?

    I see his position as following from assumptions that he has not defended abd given us no reasons to accept.

    That is, IF one has both a Cartesian picture of the senses, and a Cartesian picture of justification, and dispenses with a veracious deity, then yes, something like keiths’s position emerges.

    But he has not given us any reasons to accept that picture of the senses or of justification, and he has dismissed rather than engaged with my more Gibsonian view of senses (as affordance-detecting sensorimotor abilities) and my more Peircean view of justification (as a contestable and fluid social practice).

    So while I see keiths as having an argument, it rests on assumptions that are dogmatically presented and hardly the only option on the table.

  9. Mung Mung
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    keiths always defends his claims. At least that’s what he claims. Whether his claim is true or not is open to debate.

  10. keiths keiths
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    Patrick,

    In case I wasn’t clear earlier, you can apply that operator the the mathematical model of QM but my understanding, which again may be out of date, is that there is no evidence that the model with that operator applied has a real world referent.

    It isn’t supposed to have a real-world referent. If it did, that referent would be a universe where eggs unscramble, broken glasses reassemble themselves, and pool balls jump out of pockets, caroming off cushions and other pool balls, until the cue ball is propelled toward the pool cue, striking it and coming to rest.

    Of course, Bruce and I are not asserting that such a thing is happening somewhere. We are not claiming that there is a real-world referent for the reversed universal wavefunction.

    What we are saying is this: Suppose that the universal wavefunction is in quantum state Q0, and that it evolves through states Q1, Q2, Q3, etc., reaching state Qn. If you could somehow capture state Qn, change the signs of the appropriate parameters, and apply the same laws as before for the evolution of the wavefunction, you would find that it traced out the trajectory Qn, Qn-1, …Q2, Q1, Q0.

    In other words, for any universe evolving forward in time, there is another possible universe also evolving forward in time that would trace out the same state sequence in reverse. Bruce and I aren’t claiming that the second universe exists — just that it would behave that way if it did exist and the laws of physics were unchanged.

    The point of all of this is that the entire quantum future of the universe’s wavefunction, along with its entire quantum history, are implicit in its current quantum state. That means that there is something physical for a causal-history-based meaning to supervene upon. Unfortunately for Bruce’s theory of meaning, that physical state shows up in the wrong place.

  11. keiths keiths
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    KN,

    By flouncing, deflouncing, and reflouncing, you’ve put yourself in an awkward position. You want to engage my argument, but you can’t address me directly lest you lose face by deflouncing yet again. Hence the need to refer to me in the third person in a comment directed ostensibly to walto.

    Why not drop the pretense, address me directly, and chalk it up to a lesson learned?

    The moral of the story: Think before flouncing. It may have undesirable consequences for you.

  12. keiths keiths
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    says:

    KN,

    That is, IF one has both a Cartesian picture of the senses, and a Cartesian picture of justification, and dispenses with a veracious deity, then yes, something like keiths’s position emerges.

    No, the standard picture of senses receiving information from the external world is sufficient.

    But he has not given us any reasons to accept that picture of the senses or of justification, and he has dismissed rather than engaged with my more Gibsonian view of senses (as affordance-detecting sensorimotor abilities) and my more Peircean view of justification (as a contestable and fluid social practice).

    I’ve engaged your argument directly, showing that it fails. When applied to the scenario of the North Sentinel Islander, your faulty logic arrives at a conclusion that is obviously wrong.

    Why should we rely on an argument whose logic is known to be faulty?

    Be a philosopher, KN. When someone shows you that your argument is faulty, abandon it.

    Why on earth would you hang on to a bad argument against Cartesian skepticism that is known to fail in a similar context? Especially when a good argument for Cartesian skepticism is available?

    Your position is irrational.

  13. keiths keiths
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    Here’s the islander scenario again, for your convenience:

    KN,

    Here’s an analogy that shows how serious the problem of circularity is for your position.

    Suppose that a few decades from now you possess a really high-fi pair of virtual reality goggles, plus some sensitive motion sensors. You kidnap a North Sentinel Islander who knows nothing about virtual reality or computers, and you tell him that the goggles and sensors are magical devices that can grant him access to an actual land, LaLa Land, which is far away.

    The islander learns to navigate LaLa Land successfully, even carrying out tasks within it. If you ask him questions about LaLa Land, he answers them “correctly”. He even claims to know things about LaLa Land, which he takes to be real. We know better, because we understand that the goggles do not deliver veridical sensory information. They are fostering an illusion. LaLa Land doesn’t exist in the real world.

    The islander could argue, KN-style:

    1. I assume that the goggles deliver veridical information about LaLa Land.

    2. On the basis of that assumption, I am able to navigate LaLa Land successfully and satisfy my goals.

    3. Therefore, the goggles deliver veridical information about LaLa Land.

    Is he right? Obviously not. We can see that he is being fooled, and we can diagnose the problem with his argument: it’s blatantly circular.

    How is your argument any better than his?

  14. Alan Fox Alan Fox
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    keiths: The moral of the story: Think before flouncing. It may have undesirable consequences for you.

    I think there might be a different moral and I think several people here have learned from it.

    Anyway, I haven’t been following your… what… thought experiments, argument that we can’t be certain of anything, we might be in a simulation or a brain in a vat or a facsimile produced by a lightning strike too seriously as I don’t see any consequences. I’ve asked before but other than “interesting, “important” and providing the plot ideas for a couple of movies, I still don’t seem to have an answer to “what’s the point”,

    Or as KN put it:

    SO
    FUCKING
    WHAT

  15. keiths keiths
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    says:

    Alan,

    I’ve answered the question more than once. You don’t know that, of course, because you’re too lazy and incurious to bother reading the thread.

    Here’s my latest answer, in context:

    KN wrote this:

    You have suggested that it [Cartesian skepticism] has inspired some entertaining works of fiction. You have not show that it has any consequences for our conduct or has any bearing at all on how we live our lives.

    You enthusiastically agreed:

    This ^^^^^^

    My response to KN:

    Be careful when playing with sharp objects, KN. You might cut yourself.

    Let’s consider the book you wrote. Has it had “any consequences for our conduct” or “any bearing at all on how we live our lives”? Should we reject it as worthless on that basis?

    On another thread, Sal has been arguing that money spent on phylogenetic research is wasted if it doesn’t advance medical science. What you and Alan are saying here is equally stupid.

    Fortunately, the world is full of people who — unlike you, Alan, and Sal — actually value knowledge and ideas for their own sake, independent of their practical consequences. People who think it’s worth studying epistemology, or cosmology, or phylogenetics, even if their discoveries don’t have “any consequences for our conduct” or “any bearing at all on how we live our lives”.

  16. Alan Fox Alan Fox
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    keiths,

    Not an answer, though, is it?

  17. Patrick Patrick
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    says:

    keiths:

    In case I wasn’t clear earlier, you can apply that operator the the mathematical model of QM but my understanding, which again may be out of date, is that there is no evidence that the model with that operator applied has a real world referent.

    It isn’t supposed to have a real-world referent.If it did, that referent would be a universe where eggs unscramble, broken glasses reassemble themselves, and pool balls jump out of pockets, caroming off cushions and other pool balls, until the cue ball is propelled toward the pool cue, striking it and coming to rest.

    Of course, Bruce and I are not asserting that such a thing is happening somewhere.We are not claiming that there is a real-world referent for the reversed universal wavefunction.

    What we are saying is this: Suppose that the universal wavefunction is in quantum state Q0, and that it evolves through states Q1, Q2, Q3, etc., reaching state Qn. If you could somehow capture state Qn, change the signs of the appropriate parameters, and apply the same laws as before for the evolution of the wavefunction, you would find that it traced out the trajectory Qn, Qn-1, …Q2, Q1, Q0.

    In other words, for any universe evolving forward in time, there is another possible universe also evolving forward in time that would trace out the same state sequence in reverse.Bruce and I aren’t claiming that the second universe exists — just that it would behave that way if it did exist and the laws of physics were unchanged.

    The point of all of this is that the entire quantum future of the universe’s wavefunction, along with its entire quantum history, are implicit in its current quantum state.That means that there is something physical for a causal-history-based meaning to supervene upon.Unfortunately for Bruce’s theory of meaning, that physical state shows up in the wrong place.

    If there is no real world referent then your last paragraph doesn’t follow. In any case, thanks for the clarification.

  18. keiths keiths
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    Patrick:

    If there is no real world referent then your last paragraph doesn’t follow.

    Sure it does.

    Qn generates Qn+1, Qn+2, Qn+3, etc., through the evolution of the time-forward wavefunction. That’s the future.

    Qn generates Qn-1, Qn-2, Qn-3, etc., through the evolution of the time-reversed wavefunction. That’s the past.

    It doesn’t matter whether the time-reversed wavefunction has a real-world referent as long as it produces the right (reversed) sequence of states.

  19. keiths keiths
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    Alan,

    Not an answer, though, is it?

    Not to the chronically incurious, no.

    To anyone curious enough to do a tiny bit of thinking, yes.

    Here’s a hint. Pay particular attention to this sentence:

    Fortunately, the world is full of people who — unlike you, Alan, and Sal — actually value knowledge and ideas for their own sake, independent of their practical consequences.

  20. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Alan Fox: Anyway, I haven’t been following your… what… thought experiments, argument that we can’t be certain of anything, we might be in a simulation or a brain in a vat or a facsimile produced by a lightning strike too seriously as I don’t see any consequences. I’ve asked before but other than “interesting, “important” and providing the plot ideas for a couple of movies, I still don’t seem to have an answer to “what’s the point”,

    Exactly. There’s no there there.

    Mind you, I’d be happy if there were any semantic differences between “know” and “know*” — differences in either circumstances of application or inferential consequences. I haven’t seen any. The asterisk looks idle.

    The deeper lesson for epistemologists here turns on what’s called “Agrippa’s Trilemma”. The argument goes like this. For any knowledge claim p, there must be a claim q which justifies p. But what justifies q? Either

    1. q is a dogmatic assertion, and not justified at all, or
    2. q is justified by p, or
    3. q is justified by r, which is justified by s, which is justified by . .

    But since (1) yields a dogmatism that fails to count as knowledge, and (2) yields a vicious circularity, and (3) yields an infinite regress, we should conclude that q is not justified, and therefore p is not justified. Hence there is no knowledge at all.

    Keiths — like FMM and KairosFocus — seems to think that since (2) and (3) are absurd, (1) is our only option. But that misses the point of the Trilemma. (1) is no more acceptable than (2) or (3). If it is just part of the analysis of the concept of knowledge that knowledge requires “foundations”, then there is no knowledge. And that is pretty much what Hume concluded. Keiths seems to think that this only entails that there is no empirical knowledge — though there is empirical knowledge*, a difference that makes no difference.

    The important move, I think, is to see that justification is not essentially a matter of deductive validity, though deductive validity is a kind of justification. (We would also need to consider that there is no consensus among logicians as to what ‘deductive validity’ is, since different logical systems recognize different criteria for deductive validity.)

    Instead, justification is a social practice that consists in nothing apart from the tracking of entitlements and commitments in the social space of reasons, a game that we are taught to play in the process of acquiring a natural language. (This is why I do not think that non-linguistic animals have justified beliefs, though they have an interesting and important kind of implicit knowledge.)

    Once we recognize that justification is a social practice that is always played in media res, and not a question of deductive validity from first principles, Agrippa’s Trilemma loses its force, and we can dismount from the see-saw between dogmatism and skepticism.

  21. keiths keiths
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    KN,

    Your avoidance of the Sentinel Islander scenario is quite conspicuous.

    I wrote:

    I’ve engaged your argument directly, showing that it fails. When applied to the scenario of the North Sentinel Islander, your faulty logic arrives at a conclusion that is obviously wrong.

    Why should we rely on an argument whose logic is known to be faulty?

    You can spend all day talking about justification and trying to water it down, but don’t forget that knowledge is justified true belief.

    In the case of the Sentinel Islander, your logic confirms a false belief as knowledge. It fails.

    Why cling to bad logic?

  22. Alan Fox Alan Fox
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    keiths: Pay particular attention to this sentence:

    Fortunately, the world is full of people who — unlike you, Alan, and Sal — actually value knowledge and ideas for their own sake, independent of their practical consequences.

    “…actually value[ing] knowledge and ideas for their own sake, independent of their practical consequences” is a fine ideal. I’m on record as supporting SETI and other exploration of space just as I’m interested in and support other research that may not yet indicate any benefit other than the possible contribution of further knowledge about our world and the wider universe. I’m sure KN isn’t a science stopper either. Niggly doubts about Sal, perhaps.

    But why do I need to pay particular attention to something that does not address my question as to what are the consequences that flow from your long-maintained arguments about not being absolutely certain of anything?

  23. Alan Fox Alan Fox
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    Kantian Naturalist: Instead, justification is a social practice that consists in nothing apart from the tracking of entitlements and commitments in the social space of reasons, a game that we are taught to play in the process of acquiring a natural language. (This is why I do not think that non-linguistic animals have justified beliefs, though they have an interesting and important kind of implicit knowledge.)

    Out of what you write here and have written elsewhere, there seem to be the seeds of two OPs. One on linguistics and semantics and how language colours our understanding and perception of the world. Another on animal cognitive behaviour and the latest studies which seem better designed than in the past to demonstrate cognitive abilities in other animals.

    Regarding other animals holding beliefs, I seem to recall that Elephant matriarchs in times of drought leading the herd to remembered water sources hundreds of kilometres distant. That has to involve belief!

    ETA link to Namibian desert elephants

  24. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Alan Fox: I’m sure KN isn’t a science stopper either.

    Anyone here who thinks I’m a ‘science-stopper’ has presumably been ignoring my numerous posts about the implications of evolutionary theory and cognitive science for epistemology and philosophy of mind.

    keiths: Your avoidance of the Sentinel Islander scenario is quite conspicuous.

    I’m not engaging with you on this topic because I don’t believe that you’re arguing in good faith. Make of that what you will; I don’t care.

  25. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Alan Fox: One on linguistics and semantics and how language colours our understanding and perception of the world. Another on animal cognitive behaviour and the latest studies which seem better designed than in the past to demonstrate cognitive abilities in other animals.

    I’m not too sure how interesting either topic is, given that they’ve been much discussed already. What interests me right now is the relation between the two. I’m less inclined to think that language ‘colors’ our perception of the world and more inclined to think that language transforms our perception of the world by virtue of allowing us to coordinate our models of the environment with those of others.

    We seem to be alone among terrestrial living animals in our ability to distinguish between real and non-real patterns. I would even say that our ability to make that distinction is constitutive of sapience. That ability cries out for naturalistic explanation, and I think that the evolution of language (and shared intentionality generally) is a big part of that explanation.

    Regarding other animals holding beliefs, I seem to recall that Elephant matriarchs in times of drought leading the herd to remembered water sources hundreds of kilometres distant. That has to involve belief!

    It would seem to. But here’s the problem. In the traditional, language-centered approach to philosophy of mind, beliefs are attitudes taken towards propositions, and propositions have as their constituents concepts, where concepts have to conform to what Gareth Evans called ‘The Generality Constraint’: one has the concept that a is a F if and only if one can entertain the thought that a is a G and that b is a F. It’s not entirely clear how much generality is possible in the absence of language, though some good progress on that question has been made recently.

    I think my preference at this point is to abandon the language-centered prejudice of epistemology and philosophy of mind. (Or, more precisely, retain it for some purposes, such as the critique of political ideologies, but not take it as an article of faith.) I’m currently reading Horst’s Cognitive Pluralism, which I think takes several important steps in the right direction.

  26. Alan Fox Alan Fox
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    Kantian Naturalist: What interests me right now is the relation between the two.

    Linguistic capacity in humans, and why we evolved the necessary adaptations to produce and process speech enabling complex and subtle communication perhaps the order of a hundred thousand years ago is an interesting question (at least to me) and I’m sure there are partial answers to be found in studying animal behaviour. I’ve mentioned Frans de Waal before.

  27. Alan Fox Alan Fox
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    Following the link to Steven Horst, from the Amazon blurb, it sounds like seems similar to Michael Graziano’s thoughts on awareness.

    ETA As KN says, we’ve been there before.

  28. Alan Fox Alan Fox
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    Kantian Naturalist: I’m less inclined to think that language ‘colors’ our perception of the world and more inclined to think that language transforms our perception of the world by virtue of allowing us to coordinate our models of the environment with those of others.

    I was really thinking of how we think linguistically often leads us into unjustified anthropomorphisms.

  29. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Alan Fox: Linguistic capacity in humans, and why we evolved the necessary adaptations to produce and process speech enabling complex and subtle communication perhaps the order of a hundred thousand years ago is an interesting question (at least to me) and I’m sure there are partial answers to be found in studying animal behaviour. I’ve mentioned Frans de Waal before.

    Have you read de Waal’s newest book? I’ve only read his Primates and Philosophers, but my dad read the new book and recommended it to me. It’s on my short list. But on the evolution of language I’m far more strongly influenced by Tomasello.

    Alan Fox: Following the link to Steven Horst, from the Amazon blurb, it sounds like seems similar to Michael Graziano’s thoughts on awareness.

    Maybe. I think Graziano is interested in why it is adaptive, for a creature that can model some aspects of environment, to also model its own relation to that environment. (A True Believer in the hard problem of consciousness would dismiss Graziano’s hypothesis as an answer to the easy problem.) By contrast, Horst is interested in how mental models work, and what philosophical problems — esp in epistemology, philosophy of science, and semantics — are solved or dissolved by adopting that theoretical framework. In his earlier Beyond Reduction Horst also explored the implications of cognitive pluralism for modal metaphysics, though there’s rather less of that in the new book.

  30. keiths keiths
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    KN,

    Anyone here who thinks I’m a ‘science-stopper’ has presumably been ignoring my numerous posts about the implications of evolutionary theory and cognitive science for epistemology and philosophy of mind.

    I don’t actually think that you’re a “science stopper”, and I don’t actually think that you regard your own book as worthless, along with epistemology, cosmology, and phylogenetics. That’s the point.

    But if you were consistent, you would dismiss all of those things for the same supposed reason you dismiss Cartesian skepticism: they don’t have “any consequences for our conduct” or “any bearing at all on how we live our lives”.

    It’s an obvious double standard.

    I’m not engaging with you on this topic because I don’t believe that you’re arguing in good faith.

    You are engaging with me on this topic. You’re just doing it through comments that are ostensibly directed to third parties. It isn’t a very convincing ruse.

    As for “good faith”, is it good faith to employ discredited, circular logic that is known to generate false conclusions? That’s the reason you’re avoiding my Sentinel Islander scenario. To deny the failure of your logic in that scenario would be to deny the obvious.

    What we have here is the sad spectacle of a professional philosopher clinging to a discredited, circular argument.

  31. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    Alan Fox: I was really thinking of how we think linguistically often leads us into unjustified anthropomorphisms.

    Ah, right. Yes, the unjustified anthropomorphism is one side of the coin — for example, the overly sentimental pet-owner who ascribes fully-fledged (but inarticulate) propositional contents to her cats or dogs.

    But the flip side of the coin — anti-anthropomorphism — flatly denies that non-human animals can think at all simply because they do not think in language. Descartes fell afoul of this, and in the 20th-century, Donald Davidson gave a painstaking argument for this position. I’m working through Davidson’s argument to understand just what exactly goes wrong.

  32. Alan Fox Alan Fox
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    Kantian Naturalist: Have you read de Waal’s newest book?

    Not yet. From the Amazon reviews it looks good. I’m tempted to download it.

  33. Alan Fox Alan Fox
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    keiths,

    Participation in this blog is voluntary and available to all who wish to participate and can agree to the not-very-onerous rules. You are becoming like the crazy person on the bus that nobody wants to sit next to. Ask yourself why so many people have decided exchanging comments with you is not worth their time. Do you not see the possibility that you are no fun to talk to?

  34. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    keiths: What we have here is the sad spectacle of a professional philosopher clinging to a discredited, circular argument.

    No, what we have here is the sad spectacle of an amateur philosopher unwilling to consider any position that isn’t framed as a logical refutation of his own dogmatism.

  35. Alan Fox Alan Fox
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    Kantian Naturalist: Ah, right. Yes, the unjustified anthropomorphism is one side of the coin — for example, the overly sentimental pet-owner who ascribes fully-fledged (but inarticulate) propositional contents to her cats or dogs.

    But the flip side of the coin — anti-anthropomorphism — flatly denies that non-human animals can think at all simply because they do not think in language. Descartes fell afoul of this, and in the 20th-century, Donald Davidson gave a painstaking argument for this position. I’m working through Davidson’s argument to understand just what exactly goes wrong.

    I was thinking of a dear friend and the cat she inherited from us when I wrote that. 😉

    I think pragmatists can avoid both the pitfall of certainty vs uncertainty and the pitfall of anthropomorphism vs anti-anthropomorphism.

  36. keiths keiths
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    KN,

    Do you deny that in the Sentinel Islander scenario, your logic leads to an obviously false conclusion?

  37. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
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    The problem with the Sentinel Islander scenario is that there isn’t anyone who actually occupies an epistemic position compared to us that we would have relative to the Islander. Or, I should say, that position is unoccupied unless God and/or angels exist or until we encounter sapient extraterrestrials with vastly superior cognitive powers.

    Since that epistemic position is unoccupied, what we’re left with is a mere logical possibility.

    And as I’ve said many times, I don’t think that logical possibilities are sufficient to generate skeptical worries. The reason for that is simple: logical possibilities are sufficient to refute claims about necessity. But that’s all they can do. Since my version of pragmatic realism isn’t a claim about what is necessarily the case, it’s irrelevant to point out that it is logically possible that I am mistaken.

    The logical possibility that we are all systematically deceived by our contingently evolved sensorimotor abilities about the causal and modal structure of reality is an idle threat, because we have no reason to believe that we actually are.

    As a historical aside: the reason why Descartes finds it necessary to introduce skepticism about the senses is that he realized that the mechanistic physics that was revolutionizing 17th-century science was incompatible with the metaphysical basis of the only version of direct realism that anyone had at the time, which was Aristotelian/Thomistic hylomorphism. Put otherwise: mechanistic physics undermines hylomorphic physics, but hylomorphic physics was the basis of Aristotelian direct realism. So, direct realism gets rejected and replaced with representational empiricism (in Locke), which in turn (via Berkeley and Hume) turns into external-world skepticism.

    However, I also think that we can vindicate direct realism in light of evolutionary theory and cognitive science. Cartesian worries about how mechanistic physics undermines hylomorphism need no longer dominate the discussion. Nor need we shrink from the seemingly ‘vicious’ circularity of using empirical science to vindicate direct realism once we realize that foundationalism is a fool’s errand in the first place.

  38. Alan Fox Alan Fox
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    Keiths’s thought experiment on deceiving someone from North Sentinel Island:

    Suppose that a few decades from now you possess a really high-fi pair of virtual reality goggles, plus some sensitive motion sensors.[1] You kidnap a North Sentinel Islander who knows nothing about virtual reality or computers, and you tell him that the goggles and sensors are magical devices that can grant him access to an actual land, LaLa Land, which is far away.[2]

    The islander learns to navigate LaLa Land successfully, even carrying out tasks within it. If you ask him questions about LaLa Land, he answers them “correctly”. He even claims to know things about LaLa Land, which he takes to be real.[3] We know better, because we understand that the goggles do not deliver veridical[4] sensory information. They are fostering an illusion. LaLa Land doesn’t exist in the real world.[5]

    The islander could argue, KN-style:

    1. I assume that the goggles deliver veridical information about LaLa Land.

    2. On the basis of that assumption, I am able to navigate LaLa Land successfully and satisfy my goals.

    3. Therefore, the goggles deliver veridical information about LaLa Land.[6]

    Is he right? Obviously not. We can see that he is being fooled, and we can diagnose the problem with his argument: it’s blatantly circular.

    Not seeing how this is supposed to be any more illustrative than or different from a brain-in-a-vat.

    But:

    [1] Someone, however naïve, is not going to be fooled by a pair of virtual reality goggles. We experience an environment through all our senses and feedback, push-back and surprise from stuff in the environment. Is this what the motion sensors are supposed to do? What about sound, heat, touch, other people and curious or hungry large animals?

    [2] Nothing is known of the language North Sentinel Islanders speak. So how do you communicate?

    [3] This level of accuracy could only logically be achieved by controlling all sensory input and feedback from efforts to explore the environment, touch, smell, sound, temperature and so on.

    [4] Either you have “veridical” as “indistinguishable from reality” in which case it is trivially uninteresting or you allow that “veridical” is not achievable in such an experiment. You need to tighten up the details. Or abandon it.

    [5] Goggles aren’t going to do that. As I said you need total control of all sensory input and need to supply the correct feedback to all exploratory efforts.

    [6] And the point is?

  39. Kantian Naturalist Kantian Naturalist
    Ignored
    says:

    Alan Fox,

    Good points there. I have no idea how much ‘verisimilitude’ keiths is assuming in his thought-experiment. Presumably the Islander would be fully aware of the difference between her own sensorimotor abilities in the actual world and the VR abilities. Or we imagining a future VR that would have the same verisimilitude her actual experience? In either case, what mistakes would she be making, from our point of view? Is the problem supposed to be that the Islander is justified in believing that she directly perceives La-La Land, even though we know her belief is false?

    But notice that here is no one actually occupying the epistemic position relative to us that we would be occupying relative to the Islander. Unless God exists, there isn’t anyone who can look at our sensorimotor engagements with the environment from a third-person position external to those engagements . Skepticism invites us to see ourselves as God would see us, except that He doesn’t. It’s a strategy of alienating ourselves from the life of ordinary experience within which our concepts and values make any sense to us at all.

    (Hence the all-important conclusion to Book I of the Treatise, where Hume shifts gears from his failure to satisfy epistemological demands — demands that are implicitly theocentric, given the tradition of modern thought in which he is operating — to the more causal but still intellectually rigorous & systematic psychology in Books II and III.)

    Unless God exists, no one is actually occupying a perspective on our cognitive situation analogous to the perspective we would be occupying relative to the Islander in keiths’ thought-experiment. Hence it’s just a logical possibility of limited interest.

    Once again (with feeling!), it’s no part of my view to deny that it is logically possible that our sensorimotor systems utterly fail to engage with the causal and modal structure of the world (if it has such a structure). It’s logically possible that none of the patterns that are salient-to-us correspond to any patterns that are objectively real.

    My objection here has been only that considerations of logical possibility are of limited philosophical value, because they can only be used to refute claims about what is logically necessary (and conversely). If X is logically possible, then ~X is not logically necessary. If Y is logically necessary, then ~Y is logically impossible. That’s it.

  40. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    Kantian Naturalist: I’m not engaging with you on this topic because I don’t believe that you’re arguing in good faith. Make of that what you will; I don’t care.

    How refreshingly blunt!

    🙂

  41. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    Kantian Naturalist: As a historical aside: the reason why Descartes finds it necessary to introduce skepticism about the senses is that he realized that the mechanistic physics that was revolutionizing 17th-century science was incompatible with the metaphysical basis of the only version of direct realism that anyone had at the time, which was Aristotelian/Thomistic hylomorphism. Put otherwise: mechanistic physics undermines hylomorphic physics, but hylomorphic physics was the basis of Aristotelian direct realism. So, direct realism gets rejected and replaced with representational empiricism (in Locke), which in turn (via Berkeley and Hume) turns into external-world skepticism.

    Awesome summary.

  42. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    Kantian Naturalist: Is the problem supposed to be that the Islander is justified in believing that she directly perceives La-La Land, even though we know her belief is false

    Perhaps Keiths will elaborate.

    Meanwhile Frans de Waal does take a stand between anthropomorphism and its antithesis. Your father is right. It’s an enjoyable read so far.

  43. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    Still not sure why keiths thinks he is far away from LaLa Land.

  44. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    KN,

    I asked:

    Do you deny that in the Sentinel Islander scenario, your logic leads to an obviously false conclusion?

    Your response implies that yes, you acknowledge that your logic leads the islander to a false conclusion, but you seem to be arguing that the islander’s situation is somehow relevantly different from ours in the Cartesian scenarios.

    It isn’t.

    You write:

    The problem with the Sentinel Islander scenario is that there isn’t anyone who actually occupies an epistemic position compared to us that we would have relative to the Islander.

    Sure there is. In the Cartesian demon scenario, it’s the demon. In the brain-in-vat scenario, it’s the designers of the vat apparatus.

    Either way, it doesn’t matter. An error is still an error even if no one is aware of it.

    Suppose that everyone on earth dies in a viral epidemic, except for the Sentinelese. An islander stumbles upon a goggle/sensor set and learns to operate it. He comes to believe that LaLa Land is real, and he claims to know things about it.

    No one on earth knows that he is wrong. Does that make him right? Of course not.

    Since that epistemic position is unoccupied, what we’re left with is a mere logical possibility.

    As noted above, it makes no difference whether that epistemic position is occupied.

    And as I’ve said many times, I don’t think that logical possibilities are sufficient to generate skeptical worries.

    That’s because you came into this discussion not understanding what Cartesian skepticism is, and judging by the above, you still don’t get it.

    Cartesian skepticism does not assert that the senses are non-veridical. Please post that on your refrigerator for the next week or so.

    What Cartesian skepticism does assert is that we cannot know that our senses are veridical. In my earlier formulation:

    Any knowledge claim based on the veridicality of our senses is illegitimate, because we can’t know that our senses are veridical.

    KN:

    However, I also think that we can vindicate direct realism in light of evolutionary theory and cognitive science. Cartesian worries about how mechanistic physics undermines hylomorphism need no longer dominate the discussion. Nor need we shrink from the seemingly ‘vicious’ circularity of using empirical science to vindicate direct realism once we realize that foundationalism is a fool’s errand in the first place.

    Anyone, foundationalist or not, can see that the Sentinel Islander is mistaken. By employing your logic, he arrives at a bogus conclusion.

    You are arguing that we should employ faulty, circular logic that is known to fail to argue against Cartesian skepticism, when there is a sound, non-circular argument for Cartesian skepticism that you cannot refute.

    That’s profoundly irrational.

  45. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    Alan,

    Not seeing how this is supposed to be any more illustrative than or different from a brain-in-a-vat.

    I’m not surprised that you don’t see it.

    [1] Someone, however naïve, is not going to be fooled by a pair of virtual reality goggles. We experience an environment through all our senses and feedback, push-back and surprise from stuff in the environment. Is this what the motion sensors are supposed to do? What about sound, heat, touch, other people and curious or hungry large animals?

    Jesus, Alan. The islander knows when he puts the goggles on and he knows when he takes them off. He doesn’t think they’re transparent. He thinks they’re giving him information about a remote location. He doesn’t think he’s actually at that remote location.

    He is not being fooled the same way he would be in a brain-in-vat scenario. However, he is still being fooled, and the problem is that he’s using KN’s circular logic to decide that he’s not being fooled.

    [2] Nothing is known of the language North Sentinel Islanders speak. So how do you communicate?

    It’s obviously difficult for you to separate relevant details from irrelevant ones. No wonder you dislike thought experiments!

    [3] This level of accuracy could only logically be achieved by controlling all sensory input and feedback from efforts to explore the environment, touch, smell, sound, temperature and so on.

    No. See my response to your [1] above.

    [4] Either you have “veridical” as “indistinguishable from reality” in which case it is trivially uninteresting or you allow that “veridical” is not achievable in such an experiment. You need to tighten up the details. Or abandon it.

    It only needs to be realistic enough to convince the islander that he is seeing an actual place.

    [5] Goggles aren’t going to do that. As I said you need total control of all sensory input and need to supply the correct feedback to all exploratory efforts.

    Again, this is just your silly misunderstanding of the scenario.

    [6] And the point is?

    To show that KN’s logic is broken. Did you seriously not realize what the point was?

  46. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    KN,

    Once again (with feeling!), it’s no part of my view to deny that it is logically possible that our sensorimotor systems utterly fail to engage with the causal and modal structure of the world (if it has such a structure). It’s logically possible that none of the patterns that are salient-to-us correspond to any patterns that are objectively real.

    Do you also agree that we can’t judge the likelihood of this possibility?

    If so, congratulations — you’re a Cartesian skeptic.

    It’s about time.

  47. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    KN,

    Is the problem supposed to be that the Islander is justified in believing that she directly perceives La-La Land, even though we know her belief is false?

    Did the islander have gender reassignment surgery? Last time I checked, she was still a he.

    Alan:

    Perhaps Keiths will elaborate.

    The problem is that the islander thinks the VR goggles are delivering veridical information, and that he “justifies” this with an unsound, circular, KN-style argument.

    He’s wrong. Whether anyone else knows that he’s wrong is irrelevant.

  48. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    Cartesian Skepticism (as defined by keiths):

    We can’t know that our senses are veridical. Therefore,
    Any knowledge claim based on the veridicality of our senses is illegitimate.

    Cartesian Skepticism (as defined by keiths):

    What Cartesian skepticism does assert is that we cannot know that our senses are veridical.

    Yes folks, the conclusion is the same as the premise.

    Yet it is others here who are the irrational ones, not keiths.

  49. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    Poor Mung.

    The same brain that delivered that brilliant observation is the one that Mung uses to navigate his daily life. Just imagine.

  50. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    If only my loins were as fertile as my brain.

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