Metaphysical Madness

In a recent comment, William J. Murray wrote:

Slightly off topic, but relevant

Well, let’s discuss that (all of that comment) here in a new topic where it won’t be off topic.

WJM began that comment with:

There is no way to talk about “things” unless things exist for us to talk about, and unless words mean something in context and not something else. Unless we mean to say something, and not something else. Unless concepts describe something, and not something else.

As a mathematician, I talk about the square root of minus 1.  When mathematicians first talked about that, it was assumed to not exist.  But now most mathematicians would say that it does exist, perhaps in some Platonic sense.  It is actually important to electronics, the technology that we are using when we post on the Internet.

Over 400 years ago, people talked about phlogiston.  It was considered important, and was the basis for some serious scientific research by J.B. Priestley.  These days, we say that phlogiston does not exist and never existed.  We come to this conclusion, partly as a result of the research of Priestley, though he himself continued to defend the idea of phlogiston.

At one time, people seriously talked of the luminiferous æther.  It was considered real enough for Michelson and Morley to devise a now famous experiment to measure the æther drift.  Today, we say that the æther does not exist and never existed.

These examples clearly suggest a problem with what WJM says are the requirements for talk.

Let me include the remainder of WJM’s comment:

Slightly off topic, but relevant: There is a common denominator I’ve noticed in several threads from several posters that is very interesting and, IMO, important. When talking about intelligence, concepts of reality, logic, etc., many posters here take the tack that such things are subjective to human perspective (anthropocentric concepts) that may or may not apply to other “intelligent” beings, or to other perspectives of reality. Logic, it is apparently being argued, is really nothing more than a subjective map humans anthropomorphically apply to their experiences, which may or may not be a “true” description of reality (even though for there to be a “true” description of “reality”, reality would have to be an identifiable thing, requiring the LOI to be valid in terms of its relationship to “reality”.)

So, I’m going to coin a term: hyperskeptical anti-anthropocentrism, or being skeptical of the human perspective to the point of embracing irrationality, or HAA for short.

HAA would be the natural extension of atheistic materialism and the heir to the Copernican Principle, where Earth, and by extension humans, are “nothing special”. Our grip on reality would be nothing more than an evolutionary trait, like scales or hair, neither “true” or “not true”, just an aid to our survival differential. In that sense, a false belief is better than a true belief if a false belief aid more in our survival differential. Logic, epistemology, ontology, sound premises – nothing more than species-centric adaptations produced by mindless interactions of molecules. We can no more know “truth” than an amoeba or a cactus; what we consider to be “true” is just a result of interacting molecules.

Rationality, technically, is based on logic. Logic is fundamentally rooted in axioms accepted as necessary; once one dismisses the necessary validity of those axioms, they have necessarily given up rationality. They can re-define what it is to be reasonable or rational (perhaps by appealing to consensus), but when it comes to logic, they have abandoned reason.

And so we have these claims about how we cannot expect alien intelligence to be like human intelligence when producing a symbology that corresponds to the universe, because they might “see” and consider an entirely different universe than humans do. Their logic might not be the same. They might have 4-sided triangles, and relational distances between objects represented in symbols might be something entirely different than scale of some sort. Two moons orbiting a planet might be symbolically represented as 5 objects around a centered object. Or other intelligences might not identify one thing from another at all. I’m sure that all of life could exist just fine being unable to discern dinner from rocks from the moon, or predator from prey from indigestion.

You either believe that humans are capable of deliberately discerning true statements about the world, or you do not. If you do not, I suggest your presence in a debate forum cannot be construed as intrinsically anything more than a monkey flinging feces around. If you consider logic nothing more than an evolutionary feature that helps in our differential survival, then you necessarily consider flinging feces, killing off the young of our competitors, and consuming one’s mate after copulation equally sound “arguments” to make.

Making an argument that logic is not necessary, or is just an anthropocentric feature that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with reality, or that some things don’t have to be logically reconciled or supported, is itself an argument defeated by the content of your argument.

So, you can fling some feces (words) around. So what? So can everyone else. How about this view: I’m right, because I say so. If we are going to abandon logical principles where it suits us, that is as good an argument as any.

I will say more about that in comments to this thread.  I wanted to keep contentious issues out of the main post.

I never was quite sure what “metaphysics” refers to, but I’m pretty sure that WJM is making some strong metaphysical claims there.  Hence the title of this thread.

[A note to the site owner:  I put this in Philosophy of Science and Theism/Atheism categories.  They are the closest that I could find, but neither is at all close.  I don’t seem to have the privileges needed to create new categories.  Please feel free to fix the categories for this post.]


108 thoughts on “Metaphysical Madness

  1. Toronto: Where in nature do you find your brackets?

    Put two parentheses in a Lisp interpreter and let them breed.

    faded_Glory: I see no reason why both could not be true at the same time.

    Which is why you’re a child molester. It is absolutely true that you simultaneously are and are not. Thus we may freely pick either.

    William J. Murray: Which is why I didn’t qualify my use of the term “know” with “absolutely”.

    Doesn’t matter a bit. If you studiously use ‘approximate’ and produce criterion of falsifiability they end up hiding in the closest over empiricism.

    “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. ” — DP Moynihan

    Carl Sachs: Without the presupposition of metaphysical realism, all we have is claim (1). Which is fine, for almost all intents and purposes.

    There’s a difference without a distinction point here. Whether you’re a solipsist (Raises hand) or not is irrelevant as both conditions function the same way empirically. Such that any fight over which is which may be interesting, but completely empty.

  2. Elizabeth: Can you explain why you think your demonstration contradicts what I have said?

    Just go the other way with it. The LNC is a statement about reality, it is testable and falsifiable; we can use it to make predictions. If it is not a scientific theory then all one needs to do is put forward their standards of science. But that this was later moved into a synonymous hieroglyphics doesn’t make it disappear into fatuous twaddle. This ‘synonym death of the universe’ theory is interesting, but if we admit it then it only need be noted that logicians and mathematicians use a hieroglyphic to represent mutations in genetic algorithms. Therefore if your argument about what is done with symbolic logic is the whole of reality then it is just as certain that mutation hieroglyphics have cast Darwinism into mental nothings. And ID as well if you use the hieroglyphics on purpose.

    Elizabeth: “Manifest” is means to “show”.

    Poor choice of words on my part: Constructs or materially creates.

    Elizabeth: We are stuck with a reality in which that a cat that is either dead or alive, not a reality in which both exist.

    Then you accept the LNC. So I’m a little stumped as to how it came to be understood as otherwise.

    Elizabeth: I am not saying, and I’m not aware that anyone is saying, that the LNC makes an approximation to reality.

    Wait a minute. So you accept the LNC is a model of reality and deny that the LNC is a model of reality.

    Elizabeth: The earth’s surface can be, as Asimov says, approximated by a plane.

    “round and not-round simultaneously by any metric we could pick” is not to be understood as round by any one metric and not-round simultaneously an any one metric that is not the other metric.

  3. Neil,

    If the statement “I do not depend on any metaphysical premises, so that’s a non-problem.” … means anything, it depends on metaphysical premises. The premise that you exist as real; the premise that you can have knowledge about reality (the real state of “you”), and that you can know what “metaphysical premises” are; and that you can successfully arbit the inferential relationships to discern if you have a problem there.

    You can say you’re not eating ice cream, but that doesn’t mean you’re not eating ice cream.

  4. I share Neil’s attitude that there is no need to have an attitude towards metaphysics

    Ignoring it is having an attitude towards it.

  5. Just like atheism is a religion.

    One’s attitude toward metaphysics can be as simple as observing that a couple thousand years of metaphysics, prior to empiricism, led nowhere.

  6. William J. Murray: The premise that you exist as real; the premise that you can have knowledge about reality (the real state of “you”), and that you can know what “metaphysical premises” are; and that you can successfully arbit the inferential relationships to discern if you have a problem there.

    Why would I need any of those premises?

    I take reality to be that which I experience, and I take my knowledge of that reality to be derived from that experience.

    Sure, I am inclined to believe that reality is independent of me. But nothing hinges on that, as far as I can tell.

  7. WJM said: “You can say you’re not eating ice cream, but that doesn’t mean you’re not eating ice cream.”

    There is the issue, WJM: You seem to think that eating ice cream, tasting it, describing the experience, and using these descriptions to make better-tasting ice cream requires metaphysical premises. It doesn’t.


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