Hard or Impossible? Neil Rickert’s attempt to ‘explain consciousness.’

Neil Rickert was at it again attempting to ‘explain consciousness’ over at PS at the imperative-phrased invitation of Joshua Swamidass to: “Tell me how you think consciousness evolved.” https://discourse.peacefulscience.org/t/rickerts-ideas-on-consciousness/3684/

Neil had written this: “What it really boils down to, is that there is no such thing as metaphysical truth. There is only conventional truth. And different social groups will disagree over their social conventions.”

TSZ poster BruceS answered Neil’s challenge and addressed part of its background assumptions: “Another fan of Rorty-style pragmatism… Seems to be a cult among TSZ moderators.” So perhaps this is worth discussing here as well (though obviously the lone religious theist moderator at TSZ Mung was forgotten in BruceS’s comment).

I too reject the notion that “there is only conventional truth,” a view, however, that this site’s founder Elizabeth Liddle also seemed to hold. In the fields I have studied, this is a view held largely by social constructivists, which is often turned into a kind of ‘sociologism’ – the ideology that holds all things can be explained by appeal to societies or groups alone. This view, however, unfortunately comes at the cost of other ‘truths’.

Thus, I respectfully disagree with Neil and believe that the claim “there is no such thing as metaphysical truth” is just his own convenient fiction. It would seem that he has taken a massive detour away from ‘metaphysical truth’ and is now trying to ‘explain’ something that cannot actually be explained. Additionally, it appears that this detour has had to do largely with an attempt to create a ‘religion substitute,’ along the lines of Daniel Dennett’s evolutionistic-atheist worldview.

Rickert tells: “I was a deeply committed Christian for part of my life. But I came to doubt that, long before I started to study human cognition.” https://discourse.peacefulscience.org/t/rickerts-ideas-on-consciousness/3684/4 It thus seems that it was instead a reaction against YECism that had an important role in Neil leaving whatever Christian community he had been ‘deeply committed’ to, prior to taking up a pastime study of human cognition. If not for YECists, he might still believe in metaphysical truth & a Creator who loves us – all people – even Neil.

Rickert writes about his, “study of consciousness, where I have to look at how people make conscious assessments of what is true.” He admits that he holds “a view which many people – perhaps most people – will see as wrong. That’s why it is difficult to explain consciousness.” Yet, this makes the mistake of suggesting that it is merely other peoples’ fault why he can’t ‘explain consciousness,’ rather than taking responsibility for his inability or lack of success to convince others about how ‘consciousness evolved’ (implied: naturalistically, without need, use or role for a supernatural Creator) on himself. Maybe ‘consciousness’ simply can’t be ‘explained’ and hence there is little value in trying to do so (unless or even if one is trained as a PhD in the field and has made it their life’s passion). Otherwise, I don’t understand the ‘that’s why’ implied in Neil’s assessment of the professed difficulty of ‘explaining consciousness.’

I find the rejection of YECism dilemma fascinating and surely relevant for the TSZ community, most of whom reject YECism. It is not one commonly faced where I grew up, so please excuse if my questions come across as ignorant or insensitive. However, I did personally face and had to grapple with the ideology of YECism as told to me by a person who I highly respect still to this day and who has become a very successful practitioner in his chosen field of study & expertise (non-academic), which has nothing to do with the age of the earth. I even thought YECism had some glimpse of merit for a time, before realising that what had to be ignored and discounted in order to remain a YECist displayed errors too voluminous to seriously entertain.

Does rejection of YECism lead some people into a crisis of faith? How do we face or encounter YECists as still respectable and worthy human beings even though we wholeheartedly disagree with the ideology that they have embraced (as part of their consciousness)? I believe Neil is right to wonder about these things. And I believe it would be wrong to act unjustly towards or to treat people in an inhumane way simply because they hold an ideology that is damaging usually to no one other than themselves and their local religious community, as if I held any power as ultimate judge over the care for their souls by demanding that they turn away from ideological YECism.

“We can, of course, sit back smugly knowing that we are right and that the YECs are wrong.  But, at the same time, the YECs can sit back smugly knowing that they are right and that we are wrong.” … “People do not like explanations of what they already take for granted.  They don’t believe that an explanation is needed, since they already take it for granted.  And, if pointing out that what they take for granted depends, in part, on social conventions, then they are likely to see that as questioning what they take for granted. / This is why it is hard to explain consciousness.” – Neil Rickert https://nwrickert.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/the-hard-problem-of-consciousness/

My concern with the social constructivist and ‘social convention’ approach to ‘truth’ is that it places the utmost difficulty on the doorsteps of other people, rather than accepting responsibility on one’s own doorstep by insisting that one *can* ‘explain consciousness.’ It is surely unfortunate, however, because Neil may not have had to face this dilemma in a different Christian community, given that YECists constitute a rather large minority view among Christians worldwide (despite what R. Byers says). Indeed, most Christians don’t get upset with each other about ‘evolution’ or ‘consciousness’ as they go about their regular lives of prayer and worship and aren’t upset by it in their beliefs or relationships with others at their local churches.

Another option, one that Rickert might like to consider, is that consciousness is something that can’t actually be explained, certainly not ‘scientifically’. It may even be a God-given reflection of human beings as ‘ensouled’ creatures. Consciousness may thus simply be always something greater than what can be grasped by highly limited, finite human minds, rather than a temptation toward trying to become god-like in our self-understanding; a topic not meant for full comprehension. At some point, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Bahai’s and others must simply admit we don’t have all of the answers and consciousness, as well as some ‘metaphysical truths,’ are surely strong candidates for such an admission.

Leaving the Church because one can’t understand/explain why YECists couldn’t change their minds when faced with a huge amount of ‘strictly scientific’ evidence for an ‘old earth’ may indeed be felt by some as a very difficult but necessary situation to face. It is not one that perplexes me and I have never faced any pressure from a religious person inside a ‘house of worship’ to adopt their hypothesis about the age of the Earth. I have been calmly told about their views, but never with insistence. There is help, however, for those who have experienced pressure or insistence. Indeed, this is precisely what the BioLogos Foundation was built to encounter, as it is made up largely of former YECists who didn’t turn away from religious faith but found a way to embrace theology without accepting YECism, i.e. while rejecting YECist ideology.

Please consider this as an attempt at understanding and simply offering an answer to Rickert’s dilemma, rather than at dictating any particular solution to the problem. As it involves his own personal history that he has volunteered on the internet on this extremely sensitive topic, I certainly do not wish to put any words in Neil’s mouth or to misrepresent him or his view. I do not wish to ‘out’ his thoughts or character about anything he wishes to keep private. Please do forgive my inability to ‘explain’ these things more clearly, as I’m just trying to understand what if any link there might be between rejecting ‘metaphysical truth,’ trying to ‘explain consciousness’ and leaving a church due to what might appear as YECist fanaticism and refusal to accept scientific knowledge about the Earth, creatures and people on it.

263 thoughts on “Hard or Impossible? Neil Rickert’s attempt to ‘explain consciousness.’

  1. Rorty’s protégé, Daniel Dennett explained consciousness in a book, intriguingly entitled Consciousness Explained. Nuff said.

  2. “Another option, one that Rickert might like to consider, is that consciousness is something that can’t actually be explained, certainly not ‘scientifically’.”

    Had to read most of the article before the author finally got to the God of the Gaps argument. Should have lead with it.

    As to self delusion, it appears to be a human trait. There are anti-vaxxers, flat earthers, moon landing conspiracists, hollow earthers, Bigfoot believers, and so on. It seems that the human brain is capable of investing in a belief so fervently that you lose objectivity. There is also a social aspect, where you identify with a group and depend on that group identity as part of your own self image.

  3. Alan Fox:
    Rorty’s protégé, Daniel Dennett explained consciousness in a book, intriguingly entitled Consciousness Explained. Nuff said.

    Dennett was never Rorty’s protege. They were friends but Dennett has his own project and the two of them disagreed about quite a lot.

    Rorty thought that we should get rid of the very idea of “the truth about the world”. But he also thought that if we do so, we have no basis for thinking that science gets at a kind of “objective truth” that poetry and art doesn’t. So there’s no basis for thinking that philosophers should take the sciences more seriously than they take poetry.

    Dennett completely disagreed — Dennett’s entire project is a philosophy that takes science seriously. His project in Consciousness Explained is to say, “given what we know about neuroscience, here’s what it makes sense to say about consciousness”. To which Chalmers rightly objected that we have deep and pervasive intuitions about consciousness that we don’t know how to understand in scientific terms — which is not to say that Chalmers ultimately does any better (or worse).

    I find consciousness very peculiar and I’m inclined to think that it cannot be explained by any metaphysics, scientific or theological.

    By the way, I think Ian Hacking and Sally Haslanger have basically the right story about social construction: some things are socially constructed, and some things aren’t, and to say that something is socially constructed is to make a metaphysical claim about the kind of thing it is. And whether something is socially constructed isn’t “up to us”: we can believe that something is socially constructed and be wrong about that — and also (much more importantly) we can believe that something is not socially constructed and be wrong about that.

  4. I was really excited about this OP, as consciousness is one of my favorite themes to discuss, but then I came across this:

    “Neil had written this: “What it really boils down to, is that there is no such thing as metaphysical truth. There is only conventional truth. And different social groups will disagree over their social conventions.”
    My personal view on consciousness is this: if we take out of the equation the religiously motivated soul, and the “religiously” motivated by materialism ideas about the material consciousness, and we accept that we are all information at the subatomic level or beyond, we might get somewhere in the discussion here…

  5. My question with any theory always has been the same: Can we test it?
    Penrose and Hameroff have made some bold predictions about their theory of quantum consciousness and recently their predictions have been experimentally tested and confirmed…
    Where does Neil stand?

  6. Kantian Naturalist: Chalmers rightly objected that we have deep and pervasive intuitions about consciousness that we don’t know how to understand in scientific terms — which is not to say that Chalmers ultimately does any better (or worse).

    I agree with Dennett that it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to understand the workings of our own brains from the inside, just by thinking about it.

  7. In the fields I have studied, this is a view held largely by social constructivists, which is often turned into a kind of ‘sociologism’ – the ideology that holds all things can be explained by appeal to societies or groups alone.

    I’m pretty sure that I am not a social constructivist, as that term is usually understood. However, I am sometimes mistaken for one.

    What should not be controversial, is that we cannot describe anything without first having a description language. And that description language is, unavoidably a human construct. And the way that we use “true” is inextricably tied to the structure of that description language.

  8. It thus seems that it was instead a reaction against YECism that had an important role in Neil leaving whatever Christian community he had been ‘deeply committed’ to, prior to taking up a pastime study of human cognition. If not for YECists, he might still believe in metaphysical truth & a Creator who loves us – all people – even Neil.

    You have put 2 and 2 together, and come up with 137 — or something like that. My leaving Christianity had nothing whatsoever to do with YECism.

    Yet, this makes the mistake of suggesting that it is merely other peoples’ fault why he can’t ‘explain consciousness,’ rather than taking responsibility for his inability or lack of success to convince others about how ‘consciousness evolved’ (implied: naturalistically, without need, use or role for a supernatural Creator) on himself.

    I don’t believe that I have ever suggested that “it is merely other peoples’ fault”. I certainly did not intend to give that impression. I fully accept that it my responsibility to attempt to find a way of explaining consciousness. And that’s why I am still trying.

    I’m not at all sure of your purpose in posting this. The bulk of your post is about a pure bullshit story that you have invented.

  9. Neil Rickert: What should not be controversial, is that we cannot describe anything without first having a description language. And that description language is, unavoidably a human construct. And the way that we use “true” is inextricably tied to the structure of that description language.

    Ok, but that’s just obviously true. So what? You often write as if saying “but we’re using words!” is supposed to convince us to be skeptical of some metaphysical claims. I don’t see what the argument is supposed to be.

  10. Alan Fox: I agree with Dennett that it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to understand the workings of our own brains from the inside, just by thinking about it.

    Oh, sure.

    But that’s not what Chalmers is doing. Chalmers is trying to make sense of the explanatory gap. No matter how much neuroscience I know, there still seems to be a gap between my objective, third-person neuroscientific knowledge and my subjective, first-person awareness of how I experience the world as the kind of conscious & self-conscious being that I manifestly take myself to be.

    There are really serious problems with Chalmers that make his view unworkable, but he’s right about this much: no matter how much we study the brain objectively, there’s a deep incompatibility between what we know about ourselves as objects and how we experience ourselves as subjects. The gap between neuroscience and phenomenology can’t be simply dismissed.

  11. Neil:

    What should not be controversial, is that we cannot describe anything without first having a description language. And that description language is, unavoidably a human construct. And the way that we use “true” is inextricably tied to the structure of that description language.

    KN:

    Ok, but that’s just obviously true. So what? You often write as if saying “but we’re using words!” is supposed to convince us to be skeptical of some metaphysical claims. I don’t see what the argument is supposed to be.

    Another odd thing is that Neil describes himself as a realist, but then goes around saying things like this:

    What it really boils down to, is that there is no such thing as metaphysical truth. There is only conventional truth.

  12. Kantian Naturalist: Ok, but that’s just obviously true. So what? You often write as if saying “but we’re using words!” is supposed to convince us to be skeptical of some metaphysical claims.

    I am taking how we connect those words to reality as part of what I mean by the structure of language. And how we connect them to reality affects what we take to be true.

    Example: The Ptolemaic method of connecting language to planetary motion is different from Copernican method. The assertion “planets move in elliptical paths” is false for the Ptolemaic method, but true for the Copernican method.

    You could probably come up with other examples derived from Quine’s “gavagai” argument.

  13. Kantian Naturalist: Chalmers is trying to make sense of the explanatory gap.

    To be clear here, I am not in any way attempting to fill what Chalmers sees as an explanatory gap. I’m more inclined to see that as a bogus problem. Also, I am not doing anything that could reasonably called “neuroscience”.

    no matter how much we study the brain objectively, there’s a deep incompatibility between what we know about ourselves as objects and how we experience ourselves as subjects.

    I’m not so sure that there’s an actual incompatibility there. However, what I am looking at is how we experience objects. I’m looking at that as a broad problem, rather than at neuroscience specifics.

    This Wikipedia article is interesting. It is about the accident last year where an autonomous Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian.

    My tentative analysis is that the way the Uber vehicle “sees” the world is very different from the way that we see it. We see a world of objects. But the AI system in the Uber car doesn’t seem to “see” objects. Rather, it “sees” a panoramic view, and then has to compute apparent objects from its data. We seem to be tuned to see objects first, and to the extent that we see a panoramic view, we build that out of the individual objects that we see.

  14. Neil Rickert: I am taking how we connect those words to reality as part of what I mean by the structure of language. And how we connect them to reality affects what we take to be true.

    Sure, but “taking to be true” is not “making true” or “being true”. The fact that different conceptual frameworks contain different claims about what’s true doesn’t entail that all truth is conventional, or that there’s no such thing as “metaphysical truth”.

    Example: The Ptolemaic method of connecting language to planetary motion is different from Copernican method. The assertion “planets move in elliptical paths” is false for the Ptolemaic method, but true for the Copernican method.

    And yet a model built according to one of those method is demonstrably closer to reality than the other. So the fact that different conceptual frameworks contain different ontological commitments — phlogiston vs oxygen, Newtonian mechanics vs general relativity, etc. — doesn’t show that there’s no intelligible sense in which some conceptual frameworks are better approximations of the world than others are.

    Yet your insistence that there is only “conventional truth” and no “metaphysical truth” seems to deny that t here is any intelligible sense in which some conceptual frameworks are better approximations of the world than others are. And so I’m asking what the reasoning is for that conclusion. It can’t just be the sheer fact of pluralism about conceptual frameworks, since we can easily say that some conceptual frameworks are better than others.

    You could probably come up with other examples derived from Quine’s “gavagai” argument.

    I’d rather leave Quine out of this, for now — I find his arguments for ontological relativity quite difficult to make sense of, and I worry that they rely on premises that are much more difficult to defend than Quine lets on.

  15. Neil,

    Example: The Ptolemaic method of connecting language to planetary motion is different from Copernican method. The assertion “planets move in elliptical paths” is false for the Ptolemaic method, but true for the Copernican method.

    Actually, Copernicus thought that the planets moved in circular, not elliptical, orbits, and he even included epicycles in his system, just as in the Ptolemaic system. It was Kepler, not Copernicus, who realized that the orbits were elliptical.

    Setting that aside, you seem to be confusing the models with the language employed in descriptions of them. Both Ptolemaists and Keplerians would have understood what was meant by claiming that a planet moved in an elliptical orbit; it’s just that the Ptolemaists would have denied that it happened. The resources of the descriptive language didn’t force the choice of model.

    This is reminiscent of your earlier confusion over the geocentric model vs the heliocentric model, in which you claimed that either could be transformed into the other through a change in coordinate system. That’s not correct. Just as the resources of the descriptive language don’t force the choice of model, the choice of a coordinate system doesn’t force the choice of model either. A heliocentric model can be represented in a geocentric coordinate system and vice-versa.

  16. Neil,

    To be clear here, I am not in any way attempting to fill what Chalmers sees as an explanatory gap. I’m more inclined to see that as a bogus problem.

    That’s why I was amused when I read this statement of yours:

    People do not like explanations of what they already take for granted. They don’t believe that an explanation is needed, since they already take it for granted.

    You’re taking subjective experience for granted, not realizing that getting from physical brain processes to subjective experience is something that requires an explanation.

  17. keiths: Actually, Copernicus thought that the planets moved in circular, not elliptical, orbits, and he even included epicycles in his system, just as in the Ptolemaic system. It was Kepler, not Copernicus, who realized that the orbits were elliptical.

    That’s mostly beside the point.

    Perhaps I was unclear. But I was specifically talking about using a coordinate system centered on the sun vs. a coordinate system centered on the earth. I was not discussing details of Copernican theorizing. If we use a heliocentric system, then the planets move in elliptical (or almost elliptical) paths even though Copernicus did not recognize that.

    This is reminiscent of your earlier confusion over the geocentric model vs the heliocentric model, in which you claimed that either could be transformed into the other through a change in coordinate system.

    I was never confused about that. You were confused and misinterpreted what I was saying. You failed to follow the principle of charity.

    My comments were always intended to be about a geocentric coordinate system vs. a heliocentric coordinate system. And there is a direct mathematical transformation from one to the other.

  18. Kantian Naturalist: And yet a model built according to one of those method is demonstrably closer to reality than the other.

    What’s the meaning of “closer to reality” here.

    There is an exact mathematical transformation from a heliocentric coordinate system to a geocentric coordinate system. How can one be closer to reality than the other? The differences between them are pragmatic — how easy are they to work with.

    doesn’t show that there’s no intelligible sense in which some conceptual frameworks are better approximations of the world than others are.

    That still involves making a pragmatic choice, and making that choice part of our social conventions.

    Yet your insistence that there is only “conventional truth” and no “metaphysical truth” seems to deny that t here is any intelligible sense in which some conceptual frameworks are better approximations of the world than others are.

    You are missing the point. You are, in effect, insisting that God made the choice of conceptual frameworks, leaving us as passive observers. But it was humans who made the choices. Priestley clung to phlogiston, and resisted the change to explanation in terms of oxygen. That change — the switch from phlogiston to oxygen — amounted to establishing a convention.

    The traditional view is that there’s a certain way the world is, and we are just passive observers. My whole point is that observation is not passive. It takes our engagement. It takes our conscious engagement. And our conscious experience arises from that engagement.

    If we go by the traditional view, then there is nothing for consciousness to do and consciousness therefore should not exist. That’s what makes consciousness seem mysterious.

  19. keiths: You’re taking subjective experience for granted, not realizing that getting from physical brain processes to subjective experience is something that requires an explanation.

    No, that’s wrong. But I’ll leave you to try to figure out where you went wrong.

  20. No, that’s wrong. But I’ll leave you to try to figure out where you went wrong.

    Ha ha. You’re a terrible bluffer, Neil.

  21. Kantian Naturalist:
    There are really serious problems with Chalmers that make his view unworkable, but he’s right about this much: no matter how much we study the brain objectively, there’s a deep incompatibility between what we know about ourselves as objects and how we experience ourselves as subjects. The gap between neuroscience and phenomenology can’t be simply dismissed.

    I don’t think I understand this. You make the claim that this gap MUST exist, and that no amount of understanding of the operation of the brain, no matter how deep, how detailed, how precisely modeled can ever hope to map the subjective self-awareness we have onto the objective understanding of the brain.

    This is kind of like saying that no matter how well one understands the internal combustion engine, even if one designed that engine, one can never quite grasp the emotional sense of what it’s like to drive a car. But it seems straightforward that consciousness is what the brain does, and neuroscience can in principle tell us how it does so. If someday a quantum supercomputer becomes conscious and self-aware, has your incompatibility been overcome?

  22. Neil:

    My comments were always intended to be about a geocentric coordinate system vs. a heliocentric coordinate system.

    No, they weren’t. Here are some quotes from that exchange:

    keiths:

    The defining statement of heliocentrism is “the planets, including the earth, revolve around the sun”. There is no way to assert that idea in a geocentric system without converting it into a heliocentric one!

    Likewise, “the sun and the planets revolve around the earth” cannot be asserted in a heliocentric system without converting it into a geocentric one.

    Neil:

    Mathematically, it is just a change of coordinate systems (change of variables).

    keiths:

    Heliocentrism is a feature of reality itself, not an artifact of the coordinate system chosen. If it had been merely a change of coordinate systems, heliocentrism wouldn’t be heralded as a great scientific advance.

    There’s more where that came from.

  23. More from that thread:

    keiths:

    People laugh at geocentrists not because they failed to update their coordinate system when everyone else did. They laugh at geocentrists because they’re wrong. The predictions of the geocentric model are disconfirmed by observation.

    Choose any coordinate system you like. The geocentric model is still wrong, and the heliocentric model is right.

    Surely you’ve heard the story of Galileo’s observations of the phases of Venus, and how that was decisive evidence against the geocentric model in favor of the heliocentric one. Haven’t you?

    Neil:

    The phases of venus depend only on the relative positions of earth, venus and sun. They are predictable from the geocentric model.

    keiths:

    Yes, and the geocentric model predicts them incorrectly, just as it predicts thousands of other things incorrectly. That’s why geocentrists go into the “crackpot” category with the flat earthers.

    We wouldn’t call them crackpots if their only offense were to choose a different coordinate system!

  24. Flint,

    But it seems straightforward that consciousness is what the brain does, and neuroscience can in principle tell us how it does so.

    Here’s the paper in which Chalmers introduced the “easy” and “hard” problems of consciousness. See section 2; it’s very short.

  25. Gregory in OP: “BruceS: ‘Another fan of Rorty-style pragmatism… Seems to be a cult among TSZ moderators’ ‘”.

    I was referring in my PS comment to Alan F.

    I’m not sure if my use of ‘among’ in that phrase implies all moderators have to be members of the cult. I didn’t think so when I made that comment. Any other pedant have thoughts on that use of ‘among’? Mung?

    Nice to see someone reads my comments at PS though. …

  26. Kantian Naturalist: I’d rather leave Quine out of this, for now — I find his arguments for ontological relativity quite difficult to make sense of

    I think you have to be a Skinner-style behaviorist on language to start to make sense of these arguments. As I recall, having only struggled through it once, there are long passages in W&O that try to explain how children learn language which are based solely on Quine’s armchair contemplation, and which presume that Skinnerian mindset.

    doesn’t entail that all truth is conventional, or that there’s no such thing as “metaphysical truth”

    I am not sure why you are using that phrase ‘metaphysical truth’.

    I understand your comments to be saying that it is possible for us to say true things about the world. You are not saying that truth has some kind of metaphysical nature, eg as in Correspondence theories of truth. Rather, I suspect you are using some kind of pragmatist concept of truth.

    ETA: I’ve posted this link before; it captures my understanding of Neil’s point of view, (ie the “worst” argument).:
    Stove’s Discovery of the Worst Argument in the World
    https://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/worst.html

  27. Alan Fox: Need I say more?

    Of course, many philosophers go beyond Quine and try to understand the sciences of linguistics, neuroscience, psychology and of course biology in order to understand language usage.

    Dennett for example.

    Probably not Rorty though, although I don’t really know how much time he spent on the issue; this is just my suspicion based his overall attitude to science as being basically another form of literature.

    I’ve often wondered how you square your views on science as expressed eg in your biology posts with your appreciation of Rorty’s philosophy.

  28. BruceS: ETA: I’ve posted this link before; it captures my understanding of Neil’s point of view, (ie the “worst” argument).:
    Stove’s Discovery of the Worst Argument in the World
    https://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/worst.html

    Missed it if you have. Entertaining! Stove on the intellectual capacity of women is even better entertainment. Did he die from natural causes?

  29. Alan Fox: Oh, do you think so!?!

    There is no doubt. See eg his work on Jackendoff, on intentionality/meaning and its links to science, or his latest book for his views on intentionality and meaning.

    My basic point, which is also KN’s, is that Dennett’s philosophy is deeply rooted in understanding the related science.

    That was not Rorty’s approach.

  30. Alan Fox: Missed it if you have. Entertaining! Stove on the intellectual capacity of women iseven better entertainment. Did he die from natural causes?

    Sorry, I don’t know anything about Stove except what is in this article.

  31. BruceS: I’ve often wondered how you square your views on science as expressed eg in your biology posts with your appreciation of Rorty’s philosophy.

    It’s not at all complicated. I like the guy. You linked to a critique by someone of an article in Aeon. The background and detail of Rorty’s life are fascinating. His communist parents’ disillusion with Stalin and Soviet communism, their support for Trotsky (to the extent of giving shelter to Trotsy’s aide) and Rorty’s support and help in the breakup of the Soviet bloc and the frail emergence of democracy in ex-soviet satellites (all under threat again with Putin and Trump working hard to destroy the EU) combine in the character of the man.

  32. And not to get distracted into the pedantry of what constitutes a protégé, I like how there is a line from Dewey through Rorty to Dennett.

    ETA and the line through Russell, Ramsey and Wittgenstein (tangential to the Vienna circle and AJ Ayer, ending in his acceptance of the defeat of positivism by American pragmatism). 🙂

  33. BruceS: his overall attitude to science as being basically another form of literature.

    I’ve missed that. My overall impression of Rorty is he loved language.

  34. Seems to me we should be having this conversation in KN’s thread.

    Regarding consciousness, I’ve yet to see any kind of definition that two people could agree on, let alone any kind of consensus. Before we decide how hard the problem of understanding consciousness is (other than the Glasgow scale) it might be helpful to have a working definition.

    My own view is that there are two intractable problems, notwithstanding achieving any consensus on what “consciousness” as a stand-alone concept amounts to. One that scientific endeavour is ethics-limited and the other is the law of the universe that no organism has the intellectual capacity to understand another entity of equal or superior intellectual capacity.

  35. Alan Fox:
    And not to get distracted into the pedantry of what constitutes a protégé, I like how there is a line from Dewey through Rorty to Dennett.

    ETA and the line through Russell, Ramsey and Wittgenstein (tangential to the Vienna circle and AJ Ayer, ending in his acceptance of the defeat of positivism by American pragmatism).

    As best I understand your comment, I do not think that it is right, although I am not clear on what line you are trying to draw in the second paragraph, I admit.

    First, W disowned his Trac views (which the VC sorta used) in his later work, which is what Dennett and Rorty would have referred to mostly.
    Second, although Dennett and Rorty shared some of W’s and (much more so for Dennett) Sellar’s ideas, they took them in completely different directions. This is related to the left versus right Sellarsian divide. But Rorty as even more postmodernish than even the left Sellarsian (I think).

    There is no line from Rorty to Dennett. Biologically, that is roughly like saying humans descended from chimps. .Instead, they shared a common ancestor but moved off in different directions. Plus the genetic sharing of chimps/humans is much higher than the intellectual sharing of Dennett/Rorty.

    Rorty was an admirable person and thinker. That’s different from him being right.

  36. Alan Fox:
    BruceS,
    Have a read if you have a spare moment.

    A quick skim and it seems his argument amounts to a generalization of the same erroneous argument that Cern physicist tried to make about women and their accomplishments in physics.

  37. BruceS,

    That was just to supply the reason for my question as to whether Stove met a natural death. Poor attempt at humour.

  38. Alan Fox:
    BruceS,

    No way to judge who’s right in philosophy, it seems.

    No, that is nor the case. we judge the same way we do in any endeavor: reasoned inquiry taking into account the nature of the domain under inquiry. That does not mean there is an obvious or current-consensus right answer. Consider:

    “No way to judge who is right in the Encode functionality debate in biology”
    “No way to judge whether multiverses are scientifically provable”
    “No way to judge who is right in abortion debate”
    No way to judge who is right in saying Beethoven is of greater musical value than Yanni (see recent Podcast 360 episode)”

    From PF
    Philosophy is a fun parlor game for typoholic nerds
    — Jake

    No, that’s the Philosophy Forums. — Banno

    Generalizable to many internet forums, I think.

  39. Alan Fox:
    BruceS,

    That was just to supply the reason for my question as to whether Stove met a natural death. Poor attempt at humour.

    Oh, sorry, I did not see the relation of the two comments. That was a bit obscure, but still nicely done now that you explain what I missed .

  40. Alan Fox:
    Have a read if you have a spare moment.

    I’ll just quote one small bit:

    My belief is, if you take any degree of intellectual capacity which is above average for the human race, as a whole, then a possessor of that degree of intellectual capacity is a good deal more likely to be man than a woman.

    One of my high school teachers would have agreed with that, though I don’t remember which one. Actually, I would have agreed with it. But I also would have agreed with:
    If you take any degree of intellectual capacity which is below average for the human race, as a whole, then a possessor of that degree of intellectual capacity is a good deal more likely to be man than a woman.

    And the explanation, I think, was that in that era the way that girls were raised did not allow them to be bad failures and did not allow them to be brilliant successes.

  41. I’m not an expert on IQ, but I do have a degree in special ed.

    More males than females have mild intellectual deficits. I was in school almost fifty years ago, but it was said there’s a hump in the bell curve for males.

    As for the rest of your statement, populations have different SDs. In the current American population, males have more people scoring at both tips of the curve. I have read that Asians have a higher mean score, but fewer people at the extremes. I put that in the unconfirmed bucket.

    One can speculate on the causes, and one can speculate on whether such speculations are based on fact or on political affiliation.

    Having raised a couple of kids, I can easily see “inborn” differences, and also, see the likelihood that early childhood experience could account for the differences among populations. But it’s speculation.

  42. My daughter, and one of my grandsons, have remarkably spiky scores on subtests.
    Ranging from 99th percentile to below tenth. It’s almost as if there’s an organic component to various skills. Surprise.

  43. keiths:
    Flint,

    Here’s the paper in which Chalmers introduced the “easy” and “hard” problems of consciousness.See section 2; it’s very short.

    I guess it’s over my head. I have no difficulty understanding experience as the subjective side-effect emerging from the operation of the “easy” mechanics of brain operation. Indeed, I’d have difficulty imagining how it could AVOID being such a side-effect.

  44. Flint,

    Here are a few questions to consider:

    1. Brains still operate when their possessors are in a dreamless sleep, under general anesthesia, or in a coma. That means that subjective experience can’t be an inevitable result of brain activity — it requires a certain kind of brain activity. Why do some kinds of brain activity lead to conscious experience, when others do not?

    2. Consider the entire spectrum of organisms from viruses and bacteria through slime molds, flatworms, sea urchins and on to lizards, mice, and humans. They’re all physical systems. Which of them have subjective experiences, in your opinion, and which don’t? What is required in order for an organism to have subjective experiences?

    3. You wrote:

    This is kind of like saying that no matter how well one understands the internal combustion engine, even if one designed that engine, one can never quite grasp the emotional sense of what it’s like to drive a car.

    No, because the engine and the driver are two different systems. Understanding the fine details of the engine design doesn’t explain why the driver has subjective experiences while driving.

    The real question is: What characteristics must a physical system possess in order to have subjective experiences? Looking at the spectrum of physical systems from rocks to lugnuts to thermostats to alarm clocks to engines…to your hypothetical conscious quantum supercomputer, which of these have (or would have) subjective experiences, in your opinion?

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