2,657 thoughts on “Elon Musk Thinks Evolution is Bullshit.

  1. You see keiths, instead of addressing my criticisms of your argument you attack me. That’s why some of the nicest people at this site agree that you don’t post in good faith.

  2. Mung,

    If I actually thought that anyone besides you was confused enough to claim that my argument assumes its conclusion, I would address the point.

    You can’t teach category theory to a can opener, and you can’t teach philosophy to a Mung.

  3. keiths, it is clear that “…because we can’t know that our senses are veridical” is a premise. Yet your conclusion is that we cannot know that our senses are veridical.

    Here it is again:

    keiths:

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

    You’re rather obviously begging the question. Even a Mung can see it.

  4. keiths:

    Me: 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.

    Keiths: 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.

    I am not a “Cartesian skeptic” — nor, to use the more precise term, am I a Humean skeptic. (This is important because Descartes sets up the position in order to refute it, whereas Hume recognizes that Descartes’ refutation fails.) I think that the Cartesian-Humean version of skepticism — call it ‘modern skepticism’ — is badly confused, for reasons I have presented above and will doubtlessly need to do so again.

    I do not think that the Humean skeptic consist just in saying that we cannot know whether or not our senses are veridical. If that were the claim, then it is simply false on multiple levels. The very concept of “the senses” is one that seems too vague for it to be useful. Either it is a mere stand-in for the purely formal feature of “however it is that we receive information about the world” or it needs to be characterized precisely in terms of our phenomenology.

    Since you prefer to proceed in terms of the former, and I proceed in terms of the later, we have already an impasse. I do not find the term “the senses” to be philosophically useful. I start from existential phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, in which perception, movement, and embodiment are essentially interdependent phenomena of lived experience, and there is no room for “the senses” considered in abstraction. This is why I always write about “sensorimotor abilities” rather than “the senses”. That disagreement in terminology reveals a profound philosophical disagreement not just about epistemology or ontology but also about the methodology of philosophical reflection.

    I take it that, as a matter of phenomenological description of everyday life, we usually have little trouble distinguishing perception from hallucination or illusion. Our confidence in these distinctions turns on two facts of human existence. The first is that perception is constitutively interdependent with bodily movement in ways that hallucinations, dreams, and illusions are not. The second is that we can coordinate our perceptual takings with those of other people. (It is worth recalling that both Descartes and Hume make explicit in their work that they will do philosophy as if other people do not exist.) These two dimensions of human cognition — the perceptual-practical dimension and the socio-linguistic dimension — constitute the criteria that we use in distinguishing ‘veridical’ from ‘non-veridical’ acts of sensory consciousness.

    Of course, if one insists on considering “the senses” in abstraction from bodily movement and linguistic communication, it is easy to produce Humean skepticism about the senses. But this a trivial result, since it consists only of showing that one cannot use a set of concepts when one is deprived of the criteria for their use!

    There is also the question of the structure of justification here. Anti-foundationalists like myself will note that we can use empirical science, like embodied cognitive science (“enactivism”), to explain why our sensorimotor systems are reliable, to the extent that they are, and also why they are not, to the extent that they are not. (Andy Clark, in Surfing Uncertainty, has some nice discussions of how to use predictive processing to explain specific pathologies — such as the case of some schizophrenics who are unable to distinguish between perception and hallucination.)

    To this, the Humean skeptic will object that one cannot use the empirical science of our sensorimotor systems in order to vindicate the reliability of our sensorimotor systems, since empirical science relies on that reliability.

    The response to the Humean here is that the Humean has made a serious mistake about the structure of justification — a mistake also made by Descartes, and I think by Agrippa himself in the formulation of the Trilemma.

    The mistake is to conflate the structure of justification in formal domains with the structure of justification in substantive domains. By formal domains I mean areas of inquiry where one is considering only logical relations between concepts, whereas in substantive domains one is considering what actually or possibly exists.

    Descartes, in his ‘Quest for Certainty’ (as Dewey called it), aimed to abolish quarrels among theologians (which were used as pretext for oppression and atrocity in 17th-century Europe, as they are today) by doing for metaphysics what he and others had done for mathematics: to clarify it as a system of step-wise deductions from “self-evident” first principles. But precisely in doing so, Descartes conflated substantive domains (science and ethics) with formal domains (logic). The Quest for Certainty is the misbegotten child of that conflation, and Humean skepticism is its mirror-image.

    If one were to think that knowledge must be infallible in order to be genuine knowledge, or (put otherwise) that knowledge is certainty, then it might seem that the absence of certainty is the absence of knowledge. But this is badly wrong, as it conflates doubt with ignorance. Doubt and ignorance are different categories, and so too are certainty and knowledge. One can know many things while being certain of few or none. (I would even endorse Wittgenstein’s remarks, in On Certainty, that we are certain only of those things that we cannot be said to know.)

    In formal domains, since only logical relations are at work, deductive validity is necessary and sufficient for justification. In substantive domains deductive validity is neither necessary nor sufficient, for two reasons. Firstly, deductive validity is not necessary because the objects in substantive domains are too vague and open-textured to satisfy the necessity and sufficiency conditions of conceptual application that are satisfied in formal domains (e.g set theory). Secondly, deductive validity is not sufficient because the use of any deductive system in a substantive domain requires considering the criteria of application of that system in ways that go beyond the semantic resources of that system itself.

    The accusation of circularity arises from failing to notice this distinction between scientific metaphysics & epistemology of Peirce, Dewey, and Sellars and the mathematical metaphysics & epistemology of Descartes (also Spinoza and Leibniz). Humean skepticism arises when one notices that it is the “mathematization” of metaphysics that produces vicious circularity. But for Hume the accusation is the result of an internal critique of the mathematization of philosophy, whereas in Peirce and others, philosophy is being done scientifically rather than mathematically, which is to say, philosophy is a second-order reflection on inquiry in substantive domains, not formal domains.

    Thus, while I grant there is no deductively valid argument establishing that sensorimotory systems like ours are reliable guides to the causal structure of reality in all possible worlds, that concession alone does not make me a Cartesian skeptic, since I categorically reject the entire background of assumptions about philosophical methodology that inform the early modern tradition from Descartes to Hume.

    Once the distinction between substantive and formal domains is clearly drawn, and we see that deductive validity is correct for the latter but not the former, we will then see that the accusation of circularity is ill-posed. Instead we can notice that justification in substantive domains, including first-order claims of science and ethics and the second-order claims of epistemology and ethical theory, is always social and historical, always fallible, and always appealing to claims that can be put into question by some other inquiry. Or, as Sellars put, “empirical knowledge, like its sophisticated extension is science, is rational, not because it rests on a foundation, but because any claim can be put into question, though not all of them at once”. A scientific philosophy is a second-order inquiry into empirical knowledge that is itself a branch of empirical knowledge.

  5. KN,

    Your lengthy comment tap dances around this simple but crucial point:

    You state:

    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.

    If you agree that we cannot judge the likelihood of this “utter failure”, then it follows that we are no position to claim that our “sensorimotor systems” are delivering accurate information to us.

    If so, then, as I said earlier:

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

    You’re agreeing with me, perhaps inadvertently.

  6. KN,

    I start from existential phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, in which perception, movement, and embodiment are essentially interdependent phenomena of lived experience, and there is no room for “the senses” considered in abstraction. This is why I always write about “sensorimotor abilities” rather than “the senses”.

    That doesn’t matter for the purposes of this discussion. In a Cartesian scenario, we are receiving non-veridical information. Whether it comes via “the senses” or via “our sensorimotor abilities” is irrelevant.

    The accusation of circularity arises from failing to notice this distinction between scientific metaphysics & epistemology of Peirce, Dewey, and Sellars and the mathematical metaphysics & epistemology of Descartes (also Spinoza and Leibniz).

    No, the accusation of circularity arises from the fact that your argument is circular.

    The circularity is obvious, and it’s that circularity that leads the Sentinel Islander to a false conclusion in my thought experiment. It’s bad logic.

    To my astonishment, you continue to insist that we use your bad logic — which is known to lead to bogus conclusions — to support a position that even you seem to realize is wrong (see my previous comment).

    When your reasoning is shown to be faulty, why not do what a philosopher would do? Reject it and move on to something better.

    Philosophy that rests on bad reasoning is bad philosophy.

  7. keiths: If you agree that we cannot judge the likelihood of this “utter failure”, then it follows that we are no position to claim that our “sensorimotor systems” are delivering accurate information to us.

    Nothing important follows from this, as far as I can tell.

  8. Nothing important follows from this, as far as I can tell.

    Read the thread, Neil.

  9. keiths:
    Patrick:

    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.

    I get the math. My point is that, without a real world referent, the math cannot be used to support a claim about reality.

  10. keiths: If you agree that we cannot judge the likelihood of this “utter failure”, then it follows that we are no position to claim that our “sensorimotor systems” are delivering accurate information to us.

    False. It follows that we are in no position to claim that it is necessarily the case that our sensorimotor systems are delivering accurate information to us. Our sensorimotor systems are still delivering accurate information to us, but that’s a contingent truth about this world, not a truth about what is the case in all possible worlds.

    What we know about the actual world, including the degree to which our sensorimotor systems are reliable (and the degree to which they are not) is discovered by using those systems, by noting under what conditions they sustain consistent feedback loops between perception and bodily movement and under what conditions they don’t, and under what conditions they cohere with the sensorimotor systems that other people and animals are using as they explore their environments.

    I regard this as mere sanity, but mere sanity is never satisfying to those who embark on a quest for certainty and then find themselves thwarted along the way.

    In any event, the circularity relies in your conflation of deductive validity and empirical justification in ethics, science, law, etc. It’s the exact same mistake that Cornelius Hunter always makes when he accuses evolutionary theorists of circular reasoning.

    Neil Rickert: I’ve been reading it, all along. But then, I am not concerned with your highly theistic conception of truth.

    Yes, I agree with you here. I don’t think that the correspondence theory of truth or scientific realism are always implicitly theistic — we’ve disagreed about that before and doubtless will do so again — but in this case, I think that keiths skepticism is based on a theocentric conception of knowledge, combined with the absence of anything to satisfy that conception.

  11. Kantian Naturalist: I think that keiths skepticism is based on a theocentric conception of knowledge…

    I disagree. keiths’ position is that knowledge is not possible in the presence of doubt. That’s not a theistic position. One can always choose to doubt. Now that is a theistic position. 🙂

  12. keiths: In a Cartesian scenario, we are receiving non-veridical information.

    Um, no. Unless you are assuming your conclusion.

  13. Patrick,

    I get the math. My point is that, without a real world referent, the math cannot be used to support a claim about reality.

    If that were true, we’d never be able to design anything new, because every new design lacks a real-world referent until a prototype is built. We routinely apply the laws of physics to cases lacking real-word referents, with excellent results.

    Also, remember that time-reversibility isn’t just a property of QM; it also applies to classical physics.

    Time-reversibility can be exploited. Here’s an example:

    Time reversal signal processing

  14. Neil:

    I’ve been reading it, all along. But then, I am not concerned with your highly theistic conception of truth.

    KN:

    Yes, I agree with you here. I don’t think that the correspondence theory of truth or scientific realism are always implicitly theistic — we’ve disagreed about that before and doubtless will do so again — but in this case, I think that keiths skepticism is based on a theocentric conception of knowledge, combined with the absence of anything to satisfy that conception.

    That’s silly, and I’ve already explained why.

    You wrote:

    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.

    I responded:

    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.

    KN:

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

    keiths:

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

  15. 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.

    keiths:

    If you agree that we cannot judge the likelihood of this “utter failure”, then it follows that we are no position to claim that our “sensorimotor systems” are delivering accurate information to us.

    KN:

    False. It follows that we are in no position to claim that it is necessarily the case that our sensorimotor systems are delivering accurate information to us.

    That’s bad reasoning. If it’s possible that Leslie isn’t in her bedroom, and I have no way of judging how likely it is that she is (or isn’t) in her bedroom, then I’m in no position to claim that Leslie is in her bedroom. I simply don’t know.

    What could be more obvious?

    Our sensorimotor systems are still delivering accurate information to us, but that’s a contingent truth about this world, not a truth about what is the case in all possible worlds.

    You just admitted that they might not be!

    Slow down and think this through, KN. Your reasoning has gone off the rails.

  16. KN,

    What we know about the actual world, including the degree to which our sensorimotor systems are reliable (and the degree to which they are not) is discovered by using those systems, by noting under what conditions they sustain consistent feedback loops between perception and bodily movement and under what conditions they don’t, and under what conditions they cohere with the sensorimotor systems that other people and animals are using as they explore their environments.

    The Sentinel Islander could say the same thing — and he’d be dead wrong. He thinks he knows things about the far-off LaLa Land, but LaLa Land isn’t real. It isn’t part of the actual world.

    Your logic is broken, KN.

    I regard this as mere sanity, but mere sanity is never satisfying to those who embark on a quest for certainty and then find themselves thwarted along the way.

    I don’t demand certainty, as you know perfectly well. Why lie about that?

    As for “mere sanity”, what is sane about clinging to unsound, circular reasoning that has been shown to produce bogus results? Reasoning matters, KN — or at least it ought to, especially to a philosopher of all people!

    In any event, the circularity relies in your conflation of deductive validity and empirical justification in ethics, science, law, etc. It’s the exact same mistake that Cornelius Hunter always makes when he accuses evolutionary theorists of circular reasoning.

    No, because Corny is wrong. Evolutionary theory doesn’t depend on circular reasoning. Your argument does.

  17. keiths: I don’t demand certainty, as you know perfectly well. Why lie about that?

    It’s not a lie if it’s true.

    The main features of Cartesianism are:

    (1) the use of methodical doubt as a tool for testing beliefs and reaching certainty.

  18. Mung,

    It’s not a lie if it’s true.

    The main features of Cartesianism are:

    (1) the use of methodical doubt as a tool for testing beliefs and reaching certainty.

    I’m a Cartesian skeptic, not a Cartesian. Walto makes a similar mistake, conflating Cartesian skepticism with Cartesianism and “Cartesian theaterism”.

    Descartes appeals to certainty (of the cogito) in an attempt to escape skepticism. It’s an anti-skeptical move. I don’t follow his lead, because I am a Cartesian skeptic, not a Cartesian.

    You even provided a quote (in your new OP) that makes my point for me:

    Cartesian scepticism, more impressed with Descartes’ argument for scepticism than his own reply, holds that we do not have any knowledge of any empirical proposition about anything beyond the contents of our own minds.

    [Emphasis added]

    Why not learn about this stuff first instead of starting new threads that showcase your ignorance?

  19. keiths: 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.

    Why not just show a video, then?

  20. keiths:
    Alan,

    Yes. Why do you ask?

    Didn’t seem to be a fertile area of research other than Fink and his attempts to improve ultrasound imaging 20 years ago.

  21. Alan,

    Why not just show a video, then?

    Because the islander doesn’t merely view LaLa Land, he navigates it and interacts with it, as I explained earlier in the thread:

    The islander learns to navigate LaLa Land successfully, even carrying out tasks within it.

    The scenario thus satisifies KN’s criterion:

    KN:

    Empirical knowledge does require that our perceptual systems — like those of all other animals — are more or less reliable for guiding actions that contribute to the satisfaction of our goals.

    keiths:

    The fact that sensory reliability (in your watered-down sense) is needed for knowledge does not mean that it is sufficient for knowledge. It clearly isn’t, because to satisfy one’s goals within a virtual world does not change the fact that the world is virtual.

    By KN’s logic, the islander truly knows things about LaLa Land, which he considers to be a real place.

    KN’s logic is obviously broken, yet he still — bizarrely — clings to it.

  22. keiths:
    Alan,

    Even if that were true — and it isn’t — what difference would it make?

    My claim is correct:

    Well, all you have is some mathematical analysis being called “time-reversible”. Not quite the same thing.

  23. Not quite the same thing as what?

    Please tell me you’re not still laboring under the impression that we’ve been talking about actual time reversal!

  24. PS @ Keith

    I’m still baffled by your islander scenario, too. If you could clarify about thé point of thé motion sensors…

  25. Good Lord, Alan!

    I explained this to you four days ago:

    Anyway, I think I’ve identified the source of your confusion. When the rest of us talk about the time-reversibility of the laws of physics, you actually think we’re saying that time can flow backwards. That’s not it at all!

    When is it going to sink in?

  26. Alan,

    I’m still baffled by your islander scenario, too. If you could clarify about thé point of thé motion sensors…

    The sensors are what enable the islander to interact with LaLa Land. Otherwise it would be a purely passive experience.

    For example, when he turns his head, you want the view in the goggles to shift accordingly. That technology has been available for more than 25 years.

  27. Alan,

    That technology by itself wouldn’t be enough to fool any but the dimmest of islanders.* That’s why I set my scenario decades in the future with a high-fi VR set.

    *Although something occurs to me. Are you available to play the role of the islander, by any chance?

  28. Perhaps you’d also clarify thé objective of thé experiment. What you hope to demonstrate.

  29. Perhaps you’d also clarify thé objective of thé experiment. What you hope to demonstrate.

    Jesus, Alan. Read the thread.

  30. Alan,

    Whô else besides you is “thé rest of us”?

    Everyone else participating in the time-reversal conversation. Can you think of anyone who shares your goofy misconception?

    If you could get Mung to participate, then you might have some company.

    Bruce brought up time-reversibility in order to make the point that the causal history of the universe is implicit in its current state, not to claim that time is flowing backwards somewhere.

  31. Alan,

    The article you dismissed as “hype” explains it in easy-to-understand, Alan-level terms:

    Play it backwards

    The time-reversal process is less like living the last five minutes over and more like playing a record backwards, explains Matthew Frazier, a postdoctoral research fellow in the university’s physics department. When a signal travels through the air, its waveforms scatter before an antenna picks it up. Recording the received signal and transmitting it backwards reverses the scatter and sends it back as a focused beam in space and time.

  32. keiths: Jesus, Alan.Read the thread.

    Can’t be bothered. I assert you’ve never justified any point to your islander scenario.

  33. keiths,

    What goofy misconception? That thé search for a good mathematical model of time-dependent processes is still on?

  34. Can’t be bothered. I assert you’ve never justified any point to your islander scenario.

    LOL. Those two sentences don’t quite mesh. Think about it.

    Good night, Alan. Don’t stew too long. 🙂

  35. keiths: LOL. Those two sentences don’t quite mesh. Think about it.

    Good night, Alan.Don’t stew too long. 🙂

    Sweet dreams. Wake up a better person.

  36. keiths:

    I get the math. My point is that, without a real world referent, the math cannot be used to support a claim about reality.

    If that were true, we’d never be able to design anything new, because every new design lacks a real-world referent until a prototype is built.

    My point is that talking about history supervening only makes sense if the math describing that behavior has been demonstrated to be applicable to the real world. My understanding is that it has not. That means that the whole discussion of QM and time reversal as applied to understanding, meaning, and whatever else you’ve been arguing about is moot. Just because the math works doesn’t mean anything in reality.

  37. Alan,

    Sweet dreams. Wake up a better person.

    Less like you, then. Thanks — that’s good advice.

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